Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lifescapes 2011: Bleeps, Blurs and Bans and Insects in the Backyard

Tanwarin Sukhaphisit, director of the banned Insects in the Backyard took part in the panel discussion Bleeps, Blurs and Bans – Film Censorship in Southeast Asia at the Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival. Also taking part was Bradley Cox, director of the documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which is banned in Cambodia.

Cox talked about the various times he's tried to show Who Killed Chea Vichea? in Cambodia only to be thwarted for various reasons.

One time, the garment-workers union that the labor leader had headed wanted to show the movie on the spot where he was killed to mark International Labor Day. Police turned out in riot gear against the mostly female workers, and the government declared the movie was an illegal import. Another time the filmmakers attempted to show the movie at Cambodia's so-called Freedom Park, a far-flung spot of land where demonstrations are allowed, but only if they receive a permit. Who Killed Chea Vichea? wasn't permitted.

Cambodia's Information Minister and spokesman Khieu Kanharith has said: "It might have been that the documentary intends to accuse the government of murder."

To which Cox retorts that it's probably one of the few times that Kanharith has spoken the truth.

Tanwarin began her segment by thanking the Culture Ministry and the censors for banning her movie, which has served to increase the awareness about how gays are discriminated against in Thailand.

Speaking through a translator and keeping the Thai-speaking crowd entertained with her frank and funny talk, Tanwarin said she's still not sure why the movie was banned because it doesn't talk about politics. "It's just about people ... human being insects."

Tanwarin said that what she tried to present in Insects in the Backyard is something that already exists. She says that one reason her film has met been met with resistance is because of the belief that there are only two sexes in this world.

She said that one of the ministers acknowledged that it was a problem, but that it could not be presented. Which led Tanwarin to muse whether there's truth in anything the government has said about anything.

Tanwarin said it was her intention to release the film under Thailand 20- rating, the most restrictive classification which restricts viewers to those age 20 and older and makes I.D. checks mandatory. But ministers disagreed that anyone 20 years or older would have the maturity to know what's right or wrong. Tanwarin said she wondered if a 50-year-old mother would be allowed to watch the film? No, the ministers said. They were apparently worried that adults would go out and buy student uniforms and copy the sex scenes they saw in the movie.

The transvestite gay filmmaker, who started dressing was a woman in her teens after putting on plays, taking on the female roles and feeling comfortable with thatm said she aimed to presented transvestites as real human beings.

In Insects in the Backyard Tanwarin portrays a father of a teenage son and daughter and aims to look at the world and through that character's eyes. In a patriarchal society like Thailand, the authorities cannot take it.

The movie was in part inspired by a nephew who wouldn't accept a shirt from Tanwarin because he didn't want to wear a transvestite's T-shirt. And then what if, one day, Tanwarin met a woman and they loved each other and had a child?

The penis is just an appendage, a body part, like an arm or a leg. It's for peeing and procreating. Nothing more, Tanwarin said. Yet these body parts are referred to in Thai as "secret things", so people are naturally curious. Just like they are about Insects in the Backyard. What's it about? Why's it censored?

In a story by National Public Radio, a member of the Censorship Committee says Tanwarin knows very well why the movie is censored.

Raksarn Wiwatsinudom ... film scholar at Chulalongkorn University ... says the film was banned mostly because of one scene, which contains male nudity and a pornographic video playing on a television.

"Tanwarin knows which scenes are the most provocative," he says. "She knows that the committee members said that this particular scene is against the law. They told her that if this scene is cut, everything will be okay, even though what she's trying to portray is dangerous to the Thai society."

Professor Raksarn argues that parts of the movie's plot line – particularly the fact that Johnny and Jenny engage in prostitution of their own free will instead of being forced into it – send a harmful message to society. He says that art must be beautiful, not ugly – and he says Insects in the Backyard is ugly.

"Tanwarin says she wants to portray social problems," Raksarn scoffs. "But she's not doing that. She's just projecting her own subconscious fantasies onto the screen."

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