Thailand may lift ban on gay film

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

According to information obtained by the daily newspaper Bangkok Post, Thailand’s Administrative Court has recently advised the country’s National Film Board to lift the current ban imposed in December 2010 on local gay-themed movie Insects in the Backyard. In accordance with procedure, this initial, informal ruling is expected to be reinforced by a final ruling scheduled to be read on Dec. 25, 2015. If that final ruling falls in line with the initial ruling, the National Film Board must lift the ban with immediate effect.

The film’s director, Tanwarin Sukhapisit, said she was elated about the preliminary outcome of her lawsuit filed against Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, which supervises the National Film Board. She stated that no matter what the final ruling is, the initial ruling had at least set a precedent. “The film is meant to talk about family problems…[and] it doesn’t intend to cast a negative light on the country,” she was quoted in the Bangkok Post.

Insects in the Backyard tells the story of a transvestite father who raises a teenage son and daughter on his own. Both of them have a confused sense of their own sexualities and eventually enter the local sex industry. Thirteen members of the National Film Board had voted to ban the film for its alleged “immoral and pornographic content,” supposedly due to a three-second-long graphic showing of sexual organs and a dream sequence in which the son kills his transvestite father. Three members had voted to allow the movie in theatres. If Insects in the Backyard is eventually permitted to be screened, it will most likely receive a 20+ rating, restricting it to audiences aged 20 and older.

Thailand has a long history of banning films that deal with uncomfortable–yet undeniably prevalent–social issues. Critics say that the practice achieves nothing more than sweeping topics under the carpet in order to save face instead of dealing with them openly and in a mature manner. Most recently, the National Film Board banned the movie Abat (2015) because it told the story of a young Buddhist monk engaging in monastic misconduct. The Board sheepishly lifted the ban only a few days later following increasing public protests in social media and angry editorials in the local press.

Thai Pic Named Best Film at APSA

Thai production Rak Ti Khon Kaen–known internationally under the title Cemetery of Splendour –won the Best Film trophy at the prestigious Asia-Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane, Australia, on Nov. 26. The drama is the latest film of celebrated director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a former Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 for his fantasy drama, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The mystery-romance, characterized by dreamy cinematography, had its premiere at this year’s Cannes Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, but failed to secure the coveted Golden Palm.

Cemetery of Splendour recounts the story of a middle-aged nurse who cares for a soldier who has fallen into a coma due to a mysterious infection that doctors cannot identify. Despite being unable to communicate with her patient, she develops a deep emotional bond with him and discovers that he is plagued by terrifying nightmares. A cryptic notebook found among his possessions makes her realize a connection between the man’s affliction and an ancient mystical site buried beneath the hospital. During the course of helping her patient to free himself from his bad dreams with the assistance of a spirit medium, the nurse eventually gains deeper awareness of herself and the world around her. Cemetery of Splendour heavily relied on financing from abroad, mainly European countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Taipei Film Fest Sees Mass Resignation

A brewing political controversy has put next year’s Taipei Film Festival into jeopardy as scores of advisory committee members and the chairwoman quit over comments allegedly made by the director-general of Taipei’s Department of Cultural Affairs. First to abruptly hand in her resignation was the festival’s chairwoman, Lee Lieh, on Nov. 25, followed a day later by five advisory committee members. All of them accused Department of Cultural Affairs director-general Ni Chong-hua of “putting commercialization over culture” with regards to the festival’s programming.

Ni had earlier allegedly remarked that the festival wasn’t important and that it could simply screen older successful movies instead of selecting more recent films. He allegedly also said that the festival should give way to other, more important city-sponsored events like the 2017 Summer Universiade, which is expected to earn Taipei millions of dollars from international participants and visitors.

The five resigned committee members, together with four remaining members and an assortment of other local film industry figures, jointly issued a statement saying that “in 17 years [since the festival’s inauguration] Taipei has never seen a cultural affairs director interfere with the cultural direction and independence of the festival in such an irresponsible and violent manner [as Ni has].” A petition posted on Facebook by two of the resigned committee members calling for Ni’s replacement garnered almost 1,500 followers within 24 hours.

Ni’s appointment in December 2014 had enticed considerable opposition even within Taipei’s city government led by mayor Ko Wen-je. A former general manager of MTV Taiwan and a music producer, Ni had not been the candidate chosen by the city council’s advisory committee for the post of Department of Cultural Affairs director-general, but instead was appointed by Ko himself. The move triggered the resignation of several advisors. After the resignation of the five festival committee members, Ni scrambled to hurriedly release a public statement in which he apologized for his “miscommunication” and also denied having made his earlier comments. In the meantime, the local press reported that Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee has been offered the festival chairman post. It was unclear at press time whether he would accept.

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