Thai court reaffirms ban on LGBT film

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Thailand’s Administrative Court on Dec. 25 ruled that the ban imposed by the country’s National Film Board in 2010 on local gay-themed movie Insects in the Backyard was lawful and to be upheld. The ruling came as a surprise, as one of the judges presiding over the case had only in early December recommended during a preliminary hearing that the ban be revoked.

The court said in its ruling that Insects in the Backyard would continue to be banned primarily because of a brief scene depicting graphic sexual intercourse, which violates Section 287 of the Criminal Code which prohibits “content that has a negative impact on public morality and social decency.” However, the judges also ruled that the movie could be screened if the offensive scene were to be cut. But even then, the film would have to be rated 20+, meaning it could only be shown to audiences aged 20 and older.

Insects in the Backyard tells the story of a transvestite father who raises a teenage son and daughter on his own. Both children have a confused sense of their own sexualities and eventually enter the commercial sex industry. The scene in question is merely three seconds long and shows the father watching a gay pornographic movie on his home TV set.

Director Tanwarin Sukhapisit filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court when her movie was first banned by the National Film Board in 2010, arguing that the ban restricted her freedom of expression. Tanwarin, who is a transgender person herself and plays the character of the father, has passionately defended her film throughout the case proceedings. “The film is meant to talk about family problems and mostly lessons learned from my own experiences. It doesn’t intend to cast a negative light on the country,” she was quoted by local news media in early December after one of the judges had reportedly recommended lifting the ban.

Tanwarin said she accepted the ruling and won’t appeal. But in an interview with Kong Rithdee, the highly respected film critic of local newspaper Bangkok Post, she also highlighted interpretation problems brought on by Thailand’s vaguely worded Film Act of 2008 and the apparently “arbitrary” censorship powers executed by the National Film Board, a body supervised by the Ministry of Culture. “Back in 2010, the censors couldn’t tell me exactly why they banned my movie. They mentioned underage prostitution, they mentioned the penis shots, they mentioned the ‘bad [morality] examples.’ They said many things, but were very vague. They were unable to tell me what I had to cut so the film would pass,” she told Rithdee. “Now the court has told me which shot was the problem–the porn image on the TV screen–and I can accept that.”

Tanwarin is the first local filmmaker ever to having used a legal channel in an effort to attempt lifting a film ban since Thailand’s Film Act was introduced in 2008. A number of local and international movies have been banned since that time.   

Singapore Film Fest Wraps with Indian Win

Indian filmmaker Gurvinder Singh was honored at the recent 26th Singapore International Film Festival with the top prize in the Asian Feature Film category, receiving the Best Film trophy at the festival’s glamorous Silver Screen Awards ceremony for his 2015 drama The Fourth Direction. The Indian-French co-production is set in 1984 against the backdrop of the bloody anti-Sikh riots that enveloped India’s northern Punjab State and culminated in the storming by Indian troops of the Sikh community’s holiest shrine in the capital Amritsar, where Sikh separatists had barricaded themselves. The Fourth Direction already had its world premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened in the Un Certain Regard section.

Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi took the Best Director Award for his drama Happy Hour (2015), while young Turkish actors Yakub Özgür Turgaal, Ömer Uluç and Taha Tegin Özdemir shared the Best Performance Award for their work in Turkish drama Snow Pirates (2015). Meanwhile, Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf received the festival’s Honorary Award and Malaysia-born actress Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tomorrow Never Dies) picked up the Cinema Legend Award. It was the first time the festival has awarded this trophy.

Controversy erupted over Israeli filmmaker Avishai Sivan’s Tikkun (2015). The mystery drama didn’t pass Singapore’s stringent film censorship laws and thus could not be publicly screened during the festival. A closed-door screening had to be held for the jury, which then awarded the film a Special Mention. The 26th Singapore International Film festival ran from Nov. 26 until Dec. 6, wrapping with the Silver Screen Awards Gala on its last evening.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.