Thailand movie business gets proactive

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While film industries around the world are contracting, Thailand's movie business has become very proactive and is seeing an infusion of government support to help it grow.

This is only the second time I have seen the Thai government focus on "the industry,” partly because the various ministries tasked with film, the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Ministry of Commerce and Department of Export Promotion, have come to realize that foreign location shoots in Thailand enhance the tourism industry and bring in money at the grass roots, while increased support and development of Thai film to meet world standards aids sale of Thai film product abroad, which strengthens indigenous production companies who—you got it—pay taxes which help grow the economy.

Emphasis on the film industry can also be attributed to a coordination committee set up under the new National Film Act 2008, which is chaired by the Prime Minister himself with representatives of the ministries mentioned above. The Film Act 2008 replaces the archaic Film Act last enacted in 1930.

Heeding suggestions made by the private sector Foreign Film Services Association (FSA), the Thailand Film Office’s Office of Tourism Development has sent to the committee incentives for foreign location shoots that will be implemented by year's end.

The exact details of the incentives have not yet been released, but we have learned they will allow for a refund of V.A.T. tax on foreign productions shooting in Thailand and a reduction to zero tax on earnings of cast and crew while they are working in Thailand. This will save productions 7% and 10%, respectively. These incentives will apply to features, documentaries, commercials (still or film) and music-videos.

In another paradigm shift, after years of deliberation and numerous delays, Thailand’s first-ever film-ratings system has been put in place. Films released in Thailand will now receive an age-restricted certificate. The ratings are:

G (suitable for general audiences): No sex, abusive language or violence.
P (Promote): Movies that should be promoted on the basis of cultural or artistic merit.
+13: No violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures.
+15: Some violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures will be allowed.
+18: Fewer restrictions, but no exposed genitalia, crime or drugs.
+20: Sex scenes allowed, but no exposed genitalia.

Films do still run the risk of being banned by the ratings board—for offending the monarchy, threatening national security, hampering national unity, insulting faiths, disrespecting honorable figures, challenging morals or containing explicit sex scenes—but with the new system in place this should occur less often than in the past.
No word yet on how entries in film festivals will be treated, or if movies that do give a peek at genitalia will be pixilated as they have been traditionally.

The following films were the first to receive the official ratings:
Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (the first film to be rated): +18
Hayao Miyazaki’s anime feature Ponyo: G
Korean film Naked Kitchen: +15
American documentary Young at Heart: P

The ratings are required to be posted by distributors on all promotional materials and have already cropped up in many Thai film-related websites. Several newspapers are lagging in implementing the ratings in their editorial pages, and since theatre owners are only required to verify the ages of their patrons for a ‘+20’ rating, it could take some time before the system becomes mainstream.

While the National Film Act 2008 has been mostly good for the industry and the country as a whole, it does have its quirks. Under the Act, authorities will not allow former convicted sexual offenders to open a cinema or a VCD/DVD rental store.

"We will check the background of those who seek an operating license," Film Review Office director Pradit Posew vowed at a seminar explaining the Act held in August.

He says the Act will bar anyone who has been sentenced to jail for sexual offences from operating any such business. "That's why we want the fingerprints of people who request operating licenses," Pradit he added.

Soonthorn Auesurattanachai, who must now seek a license for his Imagine store in Nonthaburi, a short distance outside Bangkok, says he feels the new Act is very complicated. "I really don't understand why my fingerprints are needed. Why should my background be checked this deeply?" he asked, adding that Imagine sells only copyrighted items and he stocks no pornographic material.

SF Cinema City Plans Big Upgrade
SF Cinema City, Thailand's second largest multiplex circuit, announced on Sept. 3 that it plans on spending approximately US$1.76 million to upgrade some screens to 3D at 12 of its sites by the end of this year.

"We are quite optimistic about the dramatic growth in the cinema business this year, thanks mainly to the blockbusters hitting local screens from the second quarter,” managing director Suvit Thongrompo said of the expansion. He expects ticket sales to increase between 15 and 20% this year, meeting a revenue target of approximately $64.7 million, up 10% from last year.

Contact Asia-Pacific bureau chief Scott Rosenberg with your news items at (662) 982-4525, by fax at (662) 982-4526, or by e-mail at scott.rosenberg@gmail.com.