Local NGO iLaw and Movie Audience Network have organized a film competition to defy the problematic 2007 Film and Video Act that critics say creates censorship in the film industry.
Unlike other film contests, where prizes may be awarded for aesthetics, technical directing or acting, the film competition organized by three local organizations, Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), Bioscope Magazine and the Movie Audience Network, will present awards to the director of the film most likely to be banned by the Thai authorities.
According to the organizers, the Film Likely to be Banned project aims to challenge the 2007 Film and Video Act, which grants to the Film and Video Board under the Ministry of Culture the authority to ban films which might undermine “public order and morality”, or affect “national security and the honour of Thailand”.
The short film contest, under the slogan “closer to the edge with artfulness,” opened for entries in April, and will present the awards this Saturday.
Orapin Yingyongpathana, Project Manager of iLaw, said that Article 26 (7) of the National Film and Video Act was problematic because it contains vague wordings such as ‘public morality,’ which also appear in other Thai media laws such as the Broadcasting Act.
“This is to throw the question back at the state: if the people don’t think that a certain film should be banned, then why should they? Should the state improve these laws?” said Orapin.
Last year, Shakespeare Must Die was banned under the Film and Video Act on the grounds that it would cause rifts among the people in the nation. The film is about a dictator who killed the king to become ruler, and was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In late 2010, the film Insects in the Backyard was barred because a scene featured students in school uniforms having sexual relationships.
Shakespeare Must Die, directed by Ing Kanjanavanit, was banned by Thai authorities in 2012.
The contest received 40 films submitted by amateur directors from all over the country. 15 have been shortlisted for the award. The films will be screened before the awards ceremony at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre this Saturday, September 7th.
The event will not however screen three films that were considered by the organizers as having legal implications that were too risky.
Five films were shown to a smaller audience earlier this week at the Reading Room in a preview round, followed by a discussion among invited journalists, filmmakers and members of the public on whether they should go ahead and screen the risky entries, or reduce the risk and leave them unshown.
One of the three films portrays a group of financially desperate youngsters who come up with a plan to disguise one of them as monk to go out and receive food and money by asking for alms. They eventually get hooked as they find it quite easy to earn money this way.
“We find that the monkhood is just another job in society. Just wear the robes and anyone can become a monk. It’s like you pay bribes to the police in uniform, but for monks people just give away money without hesitation,” said the director Rachata Rungkamolpan when asked about the thoughts behind Buddha Expert.
"Sienphra" or Buddha Image Expert directed by Rachata Rungkamolpan
Orapin said even though it is not obvious that the film would directly violate the law, the feeling of “unsafe” still lingers when such topics are addressed.
She said that under the norms existing in Thai society, it opens the risk that the filmmakers or organizers would be prosecuted. The justice system would then have no process to protect the accused, so it would not be worth facing that risk, Orapin added.
“The constitution says a person has the right to express opinions, but this right can be suspended under certain circumstances,” she said. “And that right might not mean anything at all eventually.”
Another film shows a 10 minute long interview with a man about film censorship. At the end of the film when the national anthem starts to play, the scene switches back and forth between people in North Korea and Thailand crying copious tears for their leaders.
“I actually want to know about those sitting on the Film and Video Board. Did they graduate in art or have any qualifications to judge films and ban them? How would they know what kind of sentences would create rifts among the people in the nation?” said Sorayos Prapapan, film director of Long Live the Kim, when asked about the Film and Video Act.
“I won’t let anyone ban even one second of my film because it contains meaning I intended to put in the film,” he said.
The Film Likely to be Banned short film contest and the awards presentation will take place at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center on Saturday, on September 7th from noon to 7 pm.