Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boundary unbanned, censors apologize for 'mistake'

In a surprising and historic move, the Thai censors have admitted they were wrong, saying their decision to ban the documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง, Fahtum Pandinsoong), was incorrect.

Directed by Nonatwat Numbenchapol, the film about the politically sensitive topic of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple and the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, has been rated 18+ and cleared for release with one very minor change.

Here's the explanation from the film's Facebook page:

The Film and Video Board, attached to the Office of Cultural Promotion, contacted the filmmaker of Boundary on Thursday to apologize for the “technical mistake” regarding the ban order on Tuesday, April 23. The filmmaker was informed that the ban order was the decision of a sub-committee that in fact has no authority to issue such verdict. Only the main committee has the jurisdiction to do so. When the main committee saw the film on Thursday, April 25, they decided to let the film pass. Also, before banning any movie, the committee is required to allow its director to defend himself, but that didn’t happen on Tuesday.

However, the censors asked the director to remove two seconds of ambient sound in an early scene. That scene is the New Year’s celebration at the Ratchaprasong Intersection during which an MC announces on stage: “Let’s count down to celebrate HM the King’s 84th anniversary”. The censors expressed concerns that this might lead to misinterpretation.

The filmmaker realizes that the sound has no significance to the story of the film and agreed to mute it.

The sub-committee who banned the films cited several inappropriate issues and presentation, but the main committee does not object to any of them. Besides those two seconds of audio, the entire film remains intact.

Citing concerns about national security, the subcomittee had earlier objected to text that referred "nearly 100 deaths" during the crackdown on the 2010 red-shirt anti-government protests, as well as a Cambodian soldier's monologue criticizing the Thai government. The censorship sub-committee was also worried about nudity (a little crying Cambodian boy bouncing up and down on his toy car if I remember correctly).

And there was concerns that the film's Thai title Fahtum Pandinsoong, literally "low sky, high land", was a reference to the monarchy, which Nontawat denied in a story in The Nation today.

The five-man censorship panel under the Culture Ministry cited risk of creating misinformation and rifts in society for banning it, considering the film as a threat to national security and bilateral relations between Thailand and Cambodia. The committee also cited the title of the film as possibly creating a negative impression of the Thai monarchy because the word 'fah' or sky, can also be used as a casual alternate reference to the monarchy and the film's title stated the sky is low.

Nontawat, a Bangkokian, said he was surprised by the ban, but vowed to fight on. "Since they are not banning my life, I can speak, write and convey my message as to how real local people think about the issue." He also denied his film had anything to do with the issue of the monarchy, saying that the title of the film was adopted from an old love song dated from the 1970s about how people who think differently should be able to coexist.

But now Boundary, which premiered at the Berlin International Festival and also screened at Salaya Doc, has been cleared for release, and the initial confusion over it being banned should help other filmmakers clear hurdles as well as clarify the procedures for the authorities in charge of enforcing the film law.

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