Monday, July 8, 2013

What happened to Paradoxocracy?

Pen-ek Ratanaruang makes a point. Photo via The Nation.

Prachatipthai (ประชาธิป'ไทย, a.k.a. Paradoxocracy), Pen-ek Rattanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong's documentary on Thai contemporary politics, wrapped up a confusing run in Bangkok cinemas last Monday.

Debuting on June 24, the 81st anniversary of the establishment of the constitutional monarchy, Paradoxocracy's release was marked from the beginning by paranoia and fear. Rumors were that it might be pulled from cinemas. Even though it had been passed by censors with a couple of parts muted, the rumors had it that various interests were pressuring the Major Cineplex chain for allowing the film in its theaters.

Paradoxocracy was initially scheduled to screen from June 24 to July 10, twice a day at Paragon Cineplex and Esplanade Cineplex Ratchadaphisek. That schedule was eventually cut back to July 3 by the filmmakers. I don't know why.

On the Major Cineplex website and on its mobile app, the film was listed as having English subtitles at both locations, however on a visit to Esplanade on June 25, there was no indication of English subs at the ticket counter, and I asked the counter worker to confirm that. She did, but I didn't see the screening there myself so I can't confirm if no subs was indeed the case. Anyway, the version screened at Paragon had subs.

Later in the week, Paradoxocracy disappeared from the listings on Major's website and app. I called Paragon to check on that, and the man who answered said there were no screenings, but said there were at Esplanade (which may or may not have had subtitles).

According to some co-workers, the film had "sold out", so Major removed it from its website for the day. The listing was back a day later.

In his Saturday column, Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee details the shenanigans further:

All seemed fine, the cinemas were surprisingly packed, and "political movies" no longer looked like an endangered species in Thai cinema. But something bizarre happened last weekend when the cinema chain, according to many eyewitnesses, seemed to be trying to discourage people from seeing the film. At Paragon, they took the movie off the LCD showtime board, and if you called, the staff would give you confusing answers, such as the film wasn't showing, or may be showing, or, as happened on Sunday, "someone" had booked the entire cinema. All of this even though the film was showing as originally announced. This must be one of the few times in history that a cinema committed "demarketing", flirted with censorship, and offered a case of head-scratching paradox – a movie house persuading people not to see a movie. Conspiracy theories were rampant.

On the movie's Facebook page, Passakorn offered his thanks to all who supported Paradoxocracy, and vowed to continue the project. He raised the possibility that there will be more screenings in the provinces, but I am not sure that will happen, unless the filmmakers strike a similar deal that indie filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol had to make to screen his own politically sensitive documentary Boundary, and rent out a cinema hall and sell the tickets themselves.

Update, July 8: The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with Pen-ek and Passakorn.

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