Thursday, April 29, 2010

Indie filmmakers, ministry set to meet over Strong Thailand funding of epic

Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Manit Sriwanichpoom are heading up an effort by independent filmmakers to protest the Thai Culture Ministry's support of the big-budget epic The Legend of King Naresuan 3 and 4.

They have set a meeting for 2pm 10am on Monday, May 3, in Conference Room 2 of the Ministry of Culture, where Deputy Permanent Secretary Apinan Posayanond will "clear up the situation", according to The Nation.

Under the Thai Khem Kaeng (ไทย เข้มแข็ง, Strong Thailand) "creative economy" scheme, the Culture Ministry plans to give 100 million baht -- half of the 200-million-baht film fund -- to support the third and fourth entries in the historical-drama franchise by veteran director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol.

The Naresuan sequels had earlier been given 330 million baht from the Commerce Ministry.

According to Apichatpong and Manit, who posted an open letter on Facebook, 295 projects were submitted for consideration to the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture (OCAC). Forty-nine were approved.

They say the allocation of 100 million baht for King Naresuan was not fair to the 246 projects that were not approved.

They also criticize the lack of transparency in the process and say the project-screening committee is partial, biased and unfair.

Furthermore, according to a translation of the letter by Prachatai, "it appears that a certain private film production company has received a large amount of financial support for its various movie projects."

If, according to The Nation story, the ministry doesn't provide any answers, the filmmakers will "petition the Administrative Court and National Anti-Corruption Commission to probe this case because it was viewed as an inappropriate use of tax money to benefit only specific groups of people."

Apichatpong himself has said he stands to be awarded 3.5 million baht from the fund, which would go to defray the debts he incurred to make his new feature, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which is headed for competition in the Cannes Film Festival. But the filmmaker, an honoree of the OCAC's Silpathorn Award, says he'll refuse the money until there's been an independent accounting of the fund.

Manit is an photographer, owner of Bangkok's Kathmandu Gallery and filmmaker. He co-directed the award-winning documentary on politics and southern Thailand violence, Citizen Juling.

Prince Chatrichalerm, a long-time industry figure known for his socially conscious dramas from the 1970s to the 1990s, has previously defended the funding of his latest epics.

In the Prachatai article, Apinan, former director of the OCAC, says the money was allocated to the King Naresuan movies as a show of support by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also the chairman of the National Committee on Films and Videos. And, says Apinan, the movies’ content promotes Thai history, which is in line with the objective of the Ministry of wanting to promote love and unity in the nation.

Culture Minister Theera Slukpetch tells The Nation that the funding process was transparent but that a misunderstanding arose due to the delay of the notification of funding results to all parties and the lack of an explanation of the funding decisions to filmmakers.

The 100 million baht is being given to Naresuan on the condition that it would yield a return to the ministry for use to develop the film industry, he said.

Update: The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee says the 100 million baht would be used to film ONE SCENE -- the elephant battle between the king and a Burmese prince. "Even Avatar didn't spend 100 million baht on one scene."

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