STOP10: 'The Sea Recalls' by Aekaphong Saransate

Years after the gruesome murder of his aunt and uncle in their home in Songkhla, independent filmmaker Aekaphong Saransate set out to investigate the crime and its aftermath. The Sea Recalls was born out of this investigation and it is a documentation of personal, familial memories and a bittersweet reflection on the nature of death. The film received the Best Documentary Award at the 22nd Thai Short Film and Video Festival, and we spoke with Aekaphong to understand his film and the process of making it.

SINdie: First of all, congratulations on your win! How do you feel about clinching the Best Documentary Award at the 22nd Thai Short Film and Video Festival? 

Aekaphong: I always thought that The Sea Recalls wasn’t worthy of an audience because it didn’t relate to social issues, it is a completely personal story of my family. But watching my relatives on the screen for the first time during the festival, I realised that these people have raised me since I was young, and they’re getting old. That moment convinced me that it was the right decision to let this film happen, to capture a very precious moment of their lives. So the film already did its job. Getting the award was like a bonus. Thanks to the festival and all judges.

The Sea Recalls is a documentary about the murder of your uncle Krit Saransate - a big departure from your last short film, Fon. What motivated you to make this documentary? 

I always look for stories that are worth telling and are important to my life. The last two years have been a big change after I graduated. I had to grow up and accept the fact that sometimes in life, things happen and we can’t do anything. Every time I thought of my dead uncle, I nearly cried. It meant that this story was still unfinished, so it was an easy choice.

Fon and The Sea Recalls are 2 shorts that I made in different periods of my life. Although they may look different, something they have in common is that they are both about saying goodbye.

Can you tell us about the process of making the film in your hometown? How long did it take, and how did you piece the story together? 

As I knew my family and hometown well, I could plan around their activities and the shots I wanted to have. We spent five days filming. The first couple of days, I interviewed my relatives. The other days, we recreated the crime scene and took some stock shots. From the interviews, I found out that when they were young, they did not spend much time together because they had to work hard for a living. Thus came the ending sequence where they’re spending time at the beach together in their old age. This is what I wanted to do for them--capture a moment that they never had in the past, in all its simplicity and beauty.

Post-production was harder for me. Voice-over is the most important part of the film, and writing a voice-over script was the hardest part because at that point I didn’t fully understand why I made this film. It took lots of time to understand myself. I tried to reflect honestly on my feelings and confusion. Over time, I started to understand my thoughts and could write the script.

Did you have a plan prior to shooting, or was the process of making this documentary more organic? 

We had a plan before shooting. I wrote a first draft in order to guide my team and myself. Then, we made a short shooting breakdown, and left some free slots in it. After the interview with my relatives in the first few days, we figured out what to film.

The sea is a prominent motif in the film, and you grew up in Songkhla, a seaside province in Southern Thailand. Can you tell us more about the sea, what it means to you and the part it plays in your film? 

Samila beach is what I’ve seen everyday since I was a child. I grew up and started to be interested in the beauty of birth and death. The beach is a perfect example of that idea. The sounds made by crashing waves and grains of sand slowly moving along with the sea gives a nostalgic, poetic feeling. The back and forth movement of the waves reminds me that everything must come and go.

This idea was portrayed in my film by the Thai funeral ritual called loi angkarn (ลอยอังคาร), in which we scatter ashes of the deceased over the sea to send their soul to heaven. In a way, the ritual symbolises how all lives will return to earth one day.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

The trailer for The Sea Recalls can be viewed here:

Written by Jamie Lee
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