Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Film Act and censorship of Syndromes


Bangkok's new freesheet, the Daily Xpress yesterday ran Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul on its front page, giving the tabloid treatment to the censorship of his film, Syndromes and a Century.

"Blackout" screamed the front cover, while inside the headline was a loud, large and orange "Censorship", followed by slightly smaller, black typeface, "'Syndromes' and silence."

The story centers on the filmmaker's plan to go ahead with the local screening of his film, with the scenes the censors cut out replaced by lengths of scratched, black film leader. The longest such scene will run for seven minutes.

Says the director of the decision to run black, silent frames:

It's cynical, but actually it's a statement for the audience to make them aware that they are being blinded from getting information in this society."

The story also gives hints that the Film Act passed last year as a rubber-stamp item by the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly is indeed starting to come into effect. The Film Act contained a tightly tiered ratings system, which hasn't yet been put into place, but it appears the Act's provisions that call for films to be censored or banned has been adopted.

Here's more from the Daily Xpress story:

With the election of a new government and a new film law on the books, Apichatpong said he submitted his film to the censors again, hoping they would view it differently. The censors asked that two more scenes be excised.

"I was wrong. It's worse than the first time, but it was still worth the effort. I learned that the problem with the new film law is not the law itself, but the people who will be enforcing it," he says.

Apichatpong and producer Pantham Thongsang explained the film's artistic intentions to the board, but their appeals fell on deaf ears. The censors characterised the film as "non-artistic" and said it harmed the nation's image and its institutions. The film was made as a tribute to Apichatpong's parents, both physicians, but the censors didn't see it that way, saying his parents should feel ashamed of the depiction of their lives.

The director says he's angry and feels stupid for trying to work within the system.

"Some of [the censors] teach filmmaking," he says.

When the film was submitted to the Censorship Board last year, they found four scenes objectionable:

  • A Buddhist monk playing a guitar.
  • Two monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer.
  • A doctor kisses his girlfriend and then has to make an “adjustment” inside his trousers.
  • A group of doctors share a bottle of whiskey in their hospital basement.

On the latest appeal, censors objected to two more scenes:

  • A statue of the Prince of Songkhla, the father of Thai medicine (and father of His Majesty the King).
  • A statue of the Princess Mother (mother of His Majesty the King).

Kong Rithdee, writing for Variety, also covers this latest chapter in the story of Syndromes. He says that despite the new Film Act, censorship remains under the control of the police for another two months. After that, it will be wholly transferred to the Ministry of Culture.

Police Major General Somdej Khaokam, who chaired the censorship appeals board had this to say of their decision:

We maintained the decision of the previous committee because those are inappropriate images."

Similar to the Motion Picture Association of America's secret ratings process, names of the Censorship Board's members are kept secret, though it is known that the committee includes representatives from the police, the Thai Medical Council, the Buddhist Society and film experts.

The mutilated film will be preserved at the National Film Archive. Screenings of it will be organized by the Thai Film Foundation, with proceeds going to benefit the foundation. Says Apichatpong in Variety:

It will be a statement, and a historical record of Thailand."

Commissioned for the New Crowned Hope Festival in celebration of Mozart’s 250th birth anniversary, Syndromes and a Century premiered in the main competition at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival. It was screened at many other film festivals and was on the top 10 lists of dozens of film critics and film bodies for 2007.

More information:

7 comments:

  1. Is the DVD available, and is anyone buying it?

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  2. Hey Peter. The DVD of the original cut of the film was released in January in the U.S. by Strand Releasing. I have not yet ordered it, though perhaps I'll try, just to see what happens. It is available from Amazon.

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  3. The Strand DVD is okay, not as good as their release of Blissfully Yours. That earlier DVD had *optional* subtitles, and an Apichatpong video introduction and audio commentary.

    Their Syndromes DVD has *permanent* subtitles, and no extras except a trailer. But it's the only DVD of the film currently available (?) and gives a chance to see the film uncensored.

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  4. Hi. I'm a French journalist, I've seen (and loved) "Syndromes and a Century" last year at the Deauville Asian Film Festival, where it got the "Lotus du Meilleur Film" (the greatest prize at this festival). It was released a few months after the screening at Deauville.
    Thanks for informing us about this Censorship issue. I didn't know there was a petition before coming here but I've just signed it. Thanks.

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  5. I should have been a little more precise and asked if the DVD was available in Thailand. I wrote about the Strand release last January. Let us know if your order gets through customs. I'm sort of surprised that none of the street entrepreneurs have made copies available.

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  6. Peter, sorry. Of course you know the DVD has been released. You reviewed it. I don't know why I was being so obtuse. Looks like Mat Hunt was able to obtain the DVD. Given the weakness of the dollar, now may be the time to place an order for it myself.

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  7. I got it from Amazon. I don't think Thai customs checks the titles of DVDs/books ordered from Amazon. Hence, I could order *that* book about HMTK without any bother.

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