Interview filmmaker with Pailin Wedel
Thai-American journalist and filmmaker Pailin Wedel has been active since 2004. Her work explores themes such as faith, trauma and the clash between tradition and modernity. InScience interviewed Wedel about her first feature-length documentary, Hope Frozen, which makes its Dutch debut at the festival. The subject of her film is a Thai family that goes through a very particular and difficult crisis: they decide to conserve their daughter’s body via cryopreservation.
How were you able to gain the parents’ trust?
“Their story went viral on social media in Thailand. Since I’m a journalist my husband suggested I should do an interview with them. I’m used to doing television reportages and I went in thinking I would do a twenty-minute interview, but I ended up following and filming them for two and a half years. The media mostly portrayed them in a sensationalist way, but they were actually deep thinkers. The parents are academics, with a lot of faith in science. They didn’t mind the public judgment all that much, but they didn’t want to be portrayed as bad people. I wanted to portray them as people who weren’t crazy, but relatable. I did that by being open to them about what I wanted to film and why.”
What is your own background regarding cryopreservation? Did you think about it before?
“I only knew it from science-fiction, where you see it a lot. Characters in science-fiction are often only able to cross the universe by using cryopreservation. This family was the first time I came into contact with it more directly. The world of cryopreservation is a world of big science, with big tech and big money. There they call it ‘life extension’ and it usually revolves around people who find themselves important enough to be preserved. In this case, the choice was made by parents for their very young child. Now it suddenly becomes a story of a family of the future. It opens up new stories, about how technology changes our daily life, or even how we mourn people that one day might come back to life. It’s also interesting to note, however, that the parents weren’t that interested in whether cryopreservation works or not. It’s about the attempt to do something for their daughter.”
Besides cryopreservation we also see the discrepancy between science and religion emerge as a subtheme. What is your view on the relationship between those two?
“I was raised as a Buddhist myself, but my parents are both not very religious in any way. There is a difference between religion in the West and Buddhism, in that Buddhism wants you to keep searching and questioning, which makes it not opposed to science. The Dalai Lama himself is very interested in science.”
The subject of cryopreservation has a lot of difficult connotations to it: some consider it unethical, others vain or ridiculous. With this in mind, how did people react to your film up until now?
“They were overwhelmingly positive. Of course, there will always be the one person in the audience who is critical. The other day someone stood up and had this very logical theory on the separation of the natural and the unnatural which he used to criticize the family from the film, who was also present there. It is important for me to challenge such points of view. There are basically two things that drive me to make a film like this. First, when headlines talk about people who are crazy, I want to prove that they aren’t, to give another perspective. I want to connect people with them. Second, as a journalist, I usually tell the more horrible stories about Thailand, like human trafficking and other human rights violations. These stories are very important and need to be told, but it is also important for me to tell other stories about Thailand, to show people outside of our country that we are regular people too. For example, how many films about science from South-East Asia do you see?”
After making this film, do you now want to be cryopreserved yourself?
“Personally, I just want to cherish this life as the only one. The situation in the movie is very different than mine would be. This is the first time we hear about people who don’t want to preserve themselves, but their daughter. That changes the narrative completely. That is something I think a lot of people who see the movie can relate to. After screenings, mothers come to me and say they would do the same thing for their kids if they had the chance to save them in this way; even if these parents would never dream of preserving themselves.”
Pailin Wedel is the maker of the film Hope Frozen. Get your tickets here.