This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest.
As the train bursts past dense forests and slows through quiet villages, Railway Sleepers by director Sompot Chidgasornpongse takes its audience on a journey through Thailand. Shot entirely on a train over the space of several years, the film brings its audience on board and offers a glimpse into the lives and conversations of its passengers.
“When the audience are in the cinema it would be nice if they can imagine that they’re sitting on one of the train’s crammed carriages,” said Chidgasornpongse. ”What I hope is that they are now traveling together with the passengers in the film and that they are now traveling with me, with us.”
It was while he was studying at film school in California that Chidgasornpongse first had the idea to make Railway Sleepers. Jamie Braidwood asked Chidgasornpongse to explain how the film grew from his initial idea.
Chidgasornpongse : The idea started in 2007 when I was studying in the US I didn't have a car so it was really difficult for me to travel around the country or the city so I had to take a train.
When the train started to move I was so touched because I realized, 'wow', living in the dorm at the school and didn't get to go anywhere I felt quite trapped. So I cried actually when the train started to move.
So I took a small video camera that I had to shoot the scene outside the window of the train to remember that moment. But suddenly there was this Mexican boy, I think he was about five years old, he also looked out the window and he started asking his father questions in Spanish. I didn't understand Spanish but somehow reading their body language, I felt I understood what they were saying.
Then I had this idea of going back to Thailand and film little kids traveling long distances with their parents and see what sort of questions they would ask. So I took a year off and got on the trains and tried to film little kids with family, but then I realized there were many other things happening on the train. So that's how the film developed. It became a lot more than just kids.
Braidwood: How does the setting of the train impact the film? What does the train mean in the whole story?
Chidgasornpongse At first the train just means the train to me, when I was first starting the project, but then I realized that wow, the train becomes a metaphor of life. It's like life is the journey. And the train just brings about many many people together and we travel together to reach our own destiny in the end. But at the same time the train becomes symbolic of the country because on the train you see many kinds of people, many careers, many backgrounds.
Braidwood: Can you describe what it's like to be on the train, in that third class carriage, and what it's like to film on one?
Chidgasornpongse : It's a lot of fun actually because it's the cheapest one and it's free so lots of stuff happens. The third class train doesn't have much privacy so everyone just crams together. It's a really long journey. For example, if you want to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the north, it can take 17 hours through night and day. So we're kind of stuck here together with these strangers and eventually we get to know each other because it's such a long trip, and we have to be forced to be together and that encourages conversations. I think the third class is the part that I enjoy shooting the most because there is so much going on.
Braidwood: Are you looking forward to coming to Columbia for True/False?
Chidgasornpongse: I’m happy to share the film and I’m really curious to hear what the audience in Columbia will say. And I’m happy because the origin of the idea for the film came when I was studying in the US. This will be my first time coming back to the US so I’m really excited. I’ll be going full circle.