Thai documentary on Preah Vihear border conflict banned

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 24, 2013

A Thai independent documentary about the disputed border region with Cambodia and the ancient Hindu temple Preah Vihear has been banned from screening in Thailand for “national security” reasons, according to the filmmaker.

The movie “Boundary” or “ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง” (literally “Low heaven, high ground”) by Nontawat Numbenchapol revolves around a young Thai soldier from the violent crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protests 2010 on his way back to his home village in Sisaket Province near the border and local life with the dispute looming in the background.

On Tuesday, the movie’s Facebook page posted an update that the movie has been banned from screens nationwide and cites the authorities as saying:

ผลการตรวจพิจารณาภาพยนตร์ ของคณะอนุกรรมการพิจารณาภาพยนตร์และวีดีทัศน์ เรื่องฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง ไม่อนุญาตให้เผยแพร่ในราชอาณาจักรไทย ด้วยเนื้อหาที่ขัดต่อความมั่นคงของชาติ และความสัมพันธไมตรีระหว่างประเทศ และการนำเสนอข้อมูลบางเหตุการณ์ยังอยู่ในขั้นตอนการพิจารณาของศาล โดยไม่มีบทสรุปทางเอกสาร

“The Film and Video sub-committee [attached to the Ministry of Culture] do not permit the documentary film “Boundary” (Fah Tam Pandin Soong) to be screened in the Kingdom of Thailand. The film’s content is a threat to national security and international relations. The film presents some information on incidents that are still being deliberated by the Thai court and that have not yet been officially concluded.

Facebook update by Nontawat Numbenchapol, April 23, 2013 – translation by Nontawat, emphasis by me

The area around the ancient Hindu temple has been at the center of a long territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand since the ownership of the temple has been awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962. The conflict heated up again in recent years, escalating in armed clashes on the border in 2011. Forty people were killed, hundreds injured on both sides and thousands of locals have been displaced.

The 4.6 sq km area remains disputed territory with both countries drawing up different border lines. Last week, the two countries went to court again at the petition of Cambodia to the ICJ to reinterpret the vicinity of the original 1962 verdict. A judgement is expected in October 2013.

The movie has already been screened at small independent theaters and movie festivals in Thailand, and also at the Berlinale earlier this year – one of the major international movie festivals.

The Bangkok Post has listed some points in the film that might have caused issues with the censors:

The film also includes YouTube footage of Thai soldiers in action during a border skirmish in 2011, a survey of damage from Cambodian shellings, and a long monologue from a Cambodian soldier who criticises Thailand. (…)

One concern is a caption explaining that there were “nearly 100 deaths” during the red-shirt crackdown at Ratchaprasong on May 2010. The official figure is 89.

Preah Vihear documentary banned“, Bangkok Post, April 24, 2013

Nontawat defended his documentary, saying that…

จากย่อหน้าข้างต้นคือส่วนหนึ่งของเหตุผลที่ภาพยนตร์ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง ไม่ได้รับอนุญาตให้เผยแพร่ในราชอาณาจักรไทย โดยข้อมูลทั้งหมดที่ผมได้จากการลงไปยังพื้นที่จริงจากมุมมองของประชาชนในพื้นที่จริงที่อาศัยอยู่บริเวณชายแดน ไทย – กัมพูชา ที่ได้รับผลกระทบโดยตรงจากข้อพิพาทกรณีเขาพระวิหาร ส่วนหนึ่งทางผู้สร้างต้องการให้ภาพยนตร์เรื่อง ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง เป็นพื้นที่การแสดงออกให้ประชาชนในพื้นที่ที่ได้รับผลกระทบจริงๆได้แสดงมุมมอง ทัศนคติ และ ความคิดเห็นที่พวกเค้าไม่มีโอกาสได้สื่อและได้พูดออกมาสู่สาธารณชนได้รับรู้ ประชาชนควรมีสิทธิได้พูดในสิ่งที่คิด และภาพยนตร์ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูงเป็นการนำสารของประชาชนทุกฝ่ายมาสู่สาธารณชน และอยากให้ฟังความคิดเห็นที่ต่างกันและอยู่ร่วมกันได้ในสังคม และยังคงเชื่อว่าประชาชนไทยมีวิจารณญาณในการทำความเข้าใจในชุดข้อมูลนี้ด้วยตัวของพวกเขาเอง

The information I present in my film has been gathered from my first-hand experience in actual locations of the ongoing Thai-Cambodian border conflicts. It presents the viewpoints of the residents in the border areas who feel direct impact of the Preah Vihear spats. One of my intentions is to let the film be a space for the people in the troubled territories to voice their views, opinions and feelings that they haven’t had a chance to do so in the media report on the issue. I believe that the public deserve to hear these voices, and I believe that the people in the conflicts have a right to speak their minds. The film “Boundary” wishes to bring messages from involved parties to the public domain, in order that we’re able to listen to, as well as learn to tolerate, different opinions. I believe that the Thai public possess the intellect and judgment to interpret and understand the information proposed by the film.

Facebook update by Nontawat Numbenchapol, April 23, 2013 – translation by Nontawat, emphasis by me

What eventually led to the ban – be it the Preah Vihear angle or references to the 2010 red shirt protests the film begins with – has unsurprisingly not been further explained by the National Film Board and the Film and Video Screening Office, which has a track record of issuing rare but notable bans on small independent films critically dealing with social or political issues.

Among these were 2010’s “Insect in the Backyard” by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit – a drama about a transsexual taking care of two teenagers who eventually turn to prostitution – that was not banned for strong depictions of sex, but rather the “immoral” and “unnecessary” display of child sex workers.

More recently, last year’s “Shakespeare Must Die” also fell victim to the censors. The Thai adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by Ing K. and Manit Sriwanichpoom is set in an alternative Thailand ruled by a “dear leader” and mob mentality – a thinly veiled allegory to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and to the various political color-coded street protesters. The film board banned the movie fearing it could “causes divisiveness among the people of the nation”.

What all these bans have in common is that the censors assume that the content is too much to handle for the Thai audience and might be confused by the messages, images or motives, fictional or not. In the case of “Boundary”, the censors deny on ludicrous grounds the viewers a chance to see the daily lives of those that are affected most by the border dispute around Preah Vihear.

Nontawat says he will appeal the ban.

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