Friday, June 27, 2008

Two documentaries on southern Thailand

Innocence documentarians Areeya "Pop" Chumsai and Nisa Kongsri have turned their attention on southern Thailand for their new documentary, Our Southern Home (Oh Oh Pak Tai Baan Rao), which opened this week in a limited run at Bangkok's Lido cinemas.

They were looking for positive stories about the troubled South, and through the Haad Thip Co., distributor of Coca-Cola down there, they were put in touch with four people to focus on. Laudable as Pop's and Nisa's goal was, the documentary has been criticized by both the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee (cache) and in the Daily Xpress as an overly fawning exercise in corporate relations.

"And while the restive southernmost provinces are mentioned, Areeya and Nisa don't actually set foot in Yala, Pattani or Narathiwat," points out the Daily Xpress story, which in the print edition was bylined Parinyaporn Payee.

Then, in today's Bangkok Post Real Time (cache, cache), Kong submits a story about another documentary on the South, one that so far hasn't been screened.

Polamuang Juling (Citizen Juling) is "perhaps the most important documentary about our Deep South dysfunction to come out since the outbreak of violence in 2003," Kong writes.

The subject is Juling Pongkunmul, a Buddhist art teacher who was taken hostage by a Muslim mob and beaten in Narathiwat in May 2006. She fell into a coma and after eight months in the Prince of Songkhla Hospital's intensive care unit, she died at age 24 in January 2007, but not before she was adopted as a cause célèbre by activists and politicians, pointing to the problems in violence-wracked Muslim-majority southern Thailand.

Here's more on the film from Kong's story:

Travelling into what many believe to be the heart of darkness, the filmmakers - artists Ing K and Manit Sriwanichpoom, and Democrat party list MP Kraisak Choonhavan - use the Juling incident to hold up a mirror to the complexity of our southern malaise and the bankruptcy of the justice system that has betrayed the trust of the citizens. In an intertwining storyline, the doc stares back into the aftermath of the scandalous horrors of Tak Bai, Saba Yoi and Krue Sae mosque, before traversing the Siamese latitudes to a village in Chiang Rai, the hometown of Juling, to show us that the tragedy of being a Buddhist or a Muslim is sometimes not as bitter as the tragedy of merely being a citizen in this strange, deeply troubled land.

"I believe the moving picture can help to expose what's happening down there, because over the years, we've heard such an impossible amount of lies," says Kraisak, a former senator who's long worked on southern issues and was a staunch critic of the Thaksin administration. "We've been lied to to the point that it's not even possible for us to imagine what the truth actually is. Sometimes we need to hear blunt statements, otherwise we'll continue to take everything for granted.

"Every year I get to speak only once - in the parliamentary session," continues the MP, laughing. "Perhaps I can say something more in the film."

"Above all this is a movie that 'listens' to the southern people," adds Manit, a photographer whose pictures are known for their sardonic, anti-establishment wit. "Most people have not paid attention to what's happening, because we've grown impotent to all the bad news about the South. This is a complex issue that reflects the state of the entire nation, and I think that we need to take time to listen and to try to learn about all its aspects and implications."

At 220 minutes (3.6 hours), the documentary's length is one factor against its being programmed in film festivals or picked up for a limited run in cinemas. A serialized television run might be more workable. However, the political nature of the film may also work against it, says Kong, who believes it could run afoul of the government and its censorship bureaucrats.

See also:


  1. This documentary film also looks interesting, but seems to be taking quite a while to finish.

  2. I think 'Citizen Juling' was shown at some special shows in Australia earlier this year - do you know if the DVD can be purchased?

  3. Thanks for that link Hobby. I hadn't heard about Citizen Juling until I read about it in Kong's article. DVD would be another possible channel for distribution, but it isn't mentioned in the article.


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