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Ghosts, spirits and Thailand's award-winning film director

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Thailand's ghost-friendly filmmaker
  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palm d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival
  • Thai director thanked ghosts and spirits in his acceptance speech
  • Weerasethakul critical of lack of freedom on expression in Thailand

(CNN) -- Not many winners of the Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or thank ghosts and spirits in their acceptance speech.

But for Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand's first ever winner of the film award, it was a natural thing to do.

"It was kind of an in-joke. At the same time, I think ["Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"] is about [a person] who believes in spirits, in reincarnation so I kind of thank him for it because he might have been there," he told CNN.

The award came as a shock to Weerasethakul, who has previously found success at Cannes when he won the Jury Prize in 2004 for "Tropical Malady," but didn't expect to win the big prize.

I think Thai people should speak more about how we feel.
--Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director

"When I heard Tim Burton will be head of jury, I was thinking no way... but when I actually won the prize I thought a different way that maybe because Tim Burton has always created his own wacky world and also my film operates in my own world, and it's quite a nutty one."

The "nutty world" of "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" has a lead character (played by a real-life roof welder) who talks to spirits and ghosts as he faces the last days of this life.

Weerasethakul believes the success of the film at the festival and with international audiences where it has been shown is down to the universal theme of fear of loss.

"Another point is if the trend of movie culture is to be so bombarded by such high production movies, people crave for a personal movie now, a small one," he said.

While some critics debated if "Uncle Boonmee" was a worth winner of such an esteemed award, others praised Weerasethakul for creating a film more like a metaphysical meditation; Tim Burton described it as "like a beautiful dream that you don't see very often."

Weerasethakul however has been battling with the harsh realities of making what many consider art-house film in Thailand for many years. The "Uncle Boonmee" project took three years to complete and many of his other films have faced heavy censorship.

His 2006 film "Syndromes and The Century" was accused by the Thai authorities as being a potential threat to national security, something Weerasethakul refuted.

"You cannot make anything, I mean, you cannot [talk] basically about politics, and also religion, and other institutions in Thailand. You cannot talk about that in cinema. So that kind of cripples you in a way."

He won a few battles against the film censors and helped to establish a rating system for films in Thailand, but Weerasethakul still believes the need to speak out against limits to freedom of speech.

Weerasethakul was not surprised to see the protests and violence that gripped Thailand's capital earlier this year.

"I guess [the violence] is bound to happen because we had such a huge gap in the difference in the classes of people. [It] also makes us think about where we stand especially if you're Thai; it forces us to think about our moral standpoint.

"I think we all should speak more. About how we feel. About this oppression. Because Thailand has become a democracy not long ago. And people still, we are still in obedience? It is a very obedience culture."