Saturday, December 11, 2010

Constitution Day "funeral" for Insects in the Backyard and free expression

What was meant to be an informed and scholarly discussion about censorship and Thailand's confusing film laws, became a protest yesterday after the Culture Ministry sent a letter threatening to impose stiff fines and even jail time for the organizers of the seminar that was to show Insects in the Backyard at the Thai Film Archive.

The letter came from the Department of Cultural Promotion, which said that "every film screened in the Kingdom must first pass the Film and Video Commission."

So the seminar, which coincided with Constitution Day, was turned into a "funeral", during which the elegantly black-clad Tanwarin Sukkhapisit gave a tearful "eulogy" and then a ceremonial "cremation" was held, lighting fire to a disc of the movie. The ashes will be stored at the Thai Film Archive.

Those taking part in the ceremonies included Dorm and Hormones director Songyos Sugmakanan, who heads the Thai Film Director Association, Dome Sukwong, director of the Thai Film Archive, and media activist Supinya Klangnarong.

Instead of Insects, the formerly banned film Tongpan was shown. There was also a panel discussion on the film law, as planned.

A video of the eulogy is at YouTube, and you can watch it below.

Tanwarin, a veteran indie filmmaker, directs and stars in this family drama, portraying a sad and deluded transvestite father of a teenage daughter and son. The movie has strong depictions of sexual acts as the two youngsters address their confused sexuality and rebel against their cross-dressing dad by entering the prostitution trade. There's masturbation, a strap-on dildo and a brief glimpse of the director's penis. But there's also tears and even a bit of optimism.

A magnum opus by the director, Tanwarin has said Insects in the Backyard was made to address the issues of gay discrimination that persist in Thai society.

The movie was selected for the Dragons and Tigers competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it premiered, and also screened at the recent World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Working with Bioscope magazine's Indy Spirit project, which earlier this year obtained a local limited release for Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tanwarin's been aiming to release Insects under Thailand's most-restrictive 20- rating, which would limit the film to viewers aged 20 and older only.

This has been met with bureaucratic resistance, with Culture Ministry authorities saying the film is "contrary to morality". In the bureaucracy's confusing labyrinth of sub-committees and boards, Insects has already been turned down twice.

Employing kind of double-talk that you might find in Orwell's 1984, MiniCult says Insects isn't officially banned, "we just didn't give it permission to screen".

According to a story in The Nation today, Insects in the Backyard comes up for appeal for a third time before the Culture Ministry's full National Film Board on Monday. The story offers a glimmer of hope that the movie might be passed for release.

I'll believe it when I get to see it playing at a multiplex near me.

You can keep up with Insects in the Backyard at Facebook.

Update: Rikker has translated the eulogy.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post also had a story.

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