Friday, March 21, 2014

Clouds, Gaddafi, Shakespeare and Censor in Singapore

The Singapore Art Museum's fourth annual Southeast Asian Film Festival will feature the premieres of several Thai films – Concrete Clouds, the short documentary Gaddafi and the one-two punch of the banned-in-Thailand Shakespeare Must Die and its companion documentary Censor Must Die.

Concrete Clouds makes its Singapore premiere in the festival on April 12, with director Lee Chatametikool on hand for a talk afterward. Clouds premiered in Busan last year and has also screened in Rotterdam and Vesoul. The story of a young stocks trader (Ananda Everingham) returning to Bangkok during the 1997 financial crisis, it's the feature directorial debut by Lee, who has been an editor on many films, most notably most of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's features.

Gaddafi, making its Asian premiere, precedes Clouds. The short documentary, the latest from Panu Aree, Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasit (The Convert, Baby Arabia), is about a Thai-Muslim teen who was given the name Mohammad Gaddafi by his father, who was an admirer of the slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But now the boy's mother worries about the legacy of that name. "By giving the floor to both advocates and opponents, the interviews with this Thai- Muslim family pose the age-old question: what's in a name?" Gaddafi was previously featured in last year's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Director Ing K will be on hand on May 2 and for the Singapore premiere of the banned-in-Thailand Shakespeare Must Die and the "world premiere" of the companion documentary Censor Must Die, which chronicles the efforts of Ing K. and producer Manit Sriwanichpoom to screen Shakespeare in Thailand. Despite the ban, Shakespeare has screened at a few overseas festivals, including Tripoli, where it won the Grand Prize and NETPAC Prize.

Ahead of the screening in Singapore, Ing K. had this to say:

As one of the most banned people in the world, at work in a divided country under a regime that employs the best Western media and political lobbyists that money can buy, I'm uniquely qualified to be your tour guide to this artist's circle of hell. As a filmmaker I have been banned twice officially (My Teacher Eats Biscuits in 1998 and Shakespeare Must Die in 2012) and once unofficially. This last applies to Censor Must Die. Despite their own official conclusion citing a legal clause governing news reportage that the film is exempted from the censorship process "because it has been made from events that really happened," the censors have threatened to sue any theatre that releases the film to the public. In addition, both films have been subjected to a smear campaign by the aforementioned international lobbyists who strive to paint them as "royalist propaganda" and even "Ku Klux Klan hate speech"! The films themselves are proof of my truthful intentions. But this defense was denied me since their efforts have ensured that the films would not be seen. Very big thanks as well as deep respect are due, therefore, to the independent, courageous people behind the Southeast Asian Film Festival, who have made it possible at last for me to say: see the films for yourself.

The Southeast Asian Film Festival runs from April 11 to May 4 in the Moving Image Gallery of the Singapore Art Museum.

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