Censor news 28 March 2012

3.4.12

 


Dear Cast & Crew, Family & Friends,


This is to fill you in on what’s been happening with the censors. I know you’re anxious for news and can’t understand all the delay. So here’s a report from Manit, our brave general in this fight.

Even before the screening to the censors, the bureaucrat who processed our paperwork raised an eyebrow and said, “You’re very brave to make this play into a film.” According to him, they were eagerly expecting us and already talking about the regicide, how it might be portrayed. Not a promising start, but at least we know that the Ministry of Culture film funding committee had already seen all raw footage of those scenes, every take from Action! to Cut! They’d insisted on seeing that before giving us the money. (But of course it’s not the same government).

We screened SMD for the censors (at their office at the MoC inside the Thailand Cultural Centre) on Tuesday 20th March. The full board (rotating daily) comprises 7 people, a mixture of bureaucrats and reps from the mainstream Thai film industry (the studios). As long as more than half see it, they can pass judgement. According to Manit, who had to sit with them, five people watched in utter silence. When it ended, “it was obvious they were petrified, panic-stricken, even quietly hysterical (“glua jub jitr”). They didn’t know what to do.” They raised nearly all anticipated objections, including their concern that the lynching is “too realistic.” Manit tried his best to counter with reason. They decided not to decide, and postponed D Day until the full board had seen it. They didn’t want to shoulder the blame “if something terrible were to happen as a result of giving this film a free pass.”

On Monday 26th March (day before yesterday) we screened it to them a second time. While Manit waited for their decision, I went off to seek divine intervention and was at the City Pillar Shrine when he phoned to say the impasse remains. No verdict; come back next Monday. This is unprecedented and borderline abusive. By law they must reach a decision within 15 days, so in theory they cannot postpone any more. In theory, we could then just show the film anywhere! It could be a way to absolve themselves of all blame and responsibility. I remarked that they’d effectively be banning the film, in real terms, since it would make cinemas even more nervous about us than they already are. He said that reading is too pessimistic. I suppose we could always show it in a tent somewhere, with a barker at the door.

Here are snippets and observations from Manit, in sitcom form:

One guy had a problem with the title (as one guy on the film fund did—remember the legal expert who in all seriousness said it was disrespectful towards WS? As if we’d go through all this trouble to translate him for Thai people just to show disrespect to him): “Why must Shakespeare die?” he says. M says tyranny wants all that WS stands for to die, that’s what we mean. It’s just a movie title; it has to be easy to remember. Haven’t you heard of ‘Shakespeare in Love’?

“That one’s fine—he’s in love, he’s not condemned to die.”

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“You say this is a fictitious country. Yet you have Thai protest signs. Characters speaking Thai is okay, but the writing should not be in Thai alphabet. Can you reshoot this scene?”

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“Behind one character there’s a Thai flag. How come, since this is a fictitious country?”

No, they don’t mean the ‘Sea of Blood’ painting (which thank God has been much exhibited and is in a textbook) which they never saw as a transfigured Thai flag. They mean the barely-glimpsed, out of focus painting of a self-blinding angel in red and blue behind Macduff and Ross in Malcolm’s scene.

Later when M went through the clip with our Friendly Official (the one who said we were brave to tackle Macbeth and has since grown friendlier with each meeting), FO said, dryly, “He has sharp eyes.”

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The objections kept coming, big and small. Finally M said, “All right then. If you want to ban the movie, just ban it. Newspapers everywhere can then say that the Thai government bans a Shakespeare play. Last year Chula University Liberal Arts School staged ‘Macbeth’ in their theatre. That’s a theatrical production; ours is a movie. It’s from the same play [though different translations]. Our film’s intent is to help Thai society to become aware of itself. We have allowed the forces of greed to overwhelm the whole country and cause so much damage. Artists do this all the time. We’re filmmakers who use film as a tool to reflect contemporary social problems.”

Them: “Oh we’re not going to go that far [banning the film].”

M: “Nowadays we’re actually prohibiting people from teaching morals. It’s as if we’re not allowing monks to preach. It’s becoming taboo to publically discuss morality, virtue and righteousness. Shakespeare is all about these things; all his characters get their comeuppance.”

Them: “But the situation in the country is precarious, with a high level of conflict. We’re afraid that this film might cause problems. It could light the fuse that leads to chaos.”

In reply, M mentions political science academic Thirayudh Boonmee. “All he has to do is go on TV in his trademark holey sweater and say the words ‘insatiable for wealth and power’ to be splashed on every front page and shake all Thai society. He never had to spend all this money, time and effort to make a movie. I don’t think our little film is going to achieve anything like that.”

Silence as they searched their brain. Another old man pipes up, “Oh there’s a thing! There’s a thing! The leading lady’s necklace. Is that a Blue Diamond? (He actually said Blue Diamond in English.) This could cause people to misunderstand.”

M: (totally at sea) “Misunderstand what?”

“Well, it’s kind of dicey, isn’t it?”

M: “We have no hidden agenda. I don’t know what you mean. We picked that necklace to make her look grand and beautiful as a first lady or queen should be, that’s all. What about all the bling on TV soaps?”

“Okay,okay, you have no ill intent.”

M finally gets that the man is implying we’re accusing Someone of benefiting from the infamous theft of the royal Saudi Diamond. “If you’re considering using Article 112 (lese majeste law with heavy jail terms) against me, you’d better write down your accusations in black and white on paper. They would be your words, your accusations, not mine.”

Silence.

[Lady M’s so-called “blue diamond” is a hiddenite, a relatively cheap semi-precious cousin of aquamarine. What jeweller is going to lend a blue diamond that size, if it even exists, to a low-budget horror movie?]

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“The red shirts will say the film causes people to misunderstand them and perceive them as being prone to violence.”

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“Why do the golf course killers wear black?”

Manit was too exhausted by then to open his mouth. We had seen Thai caddies dressed exactly this way to protect themselves from sun, and the colour was chosen because it was archetypal, a shadow rather than a person, in line with all our other colour and costume decisions. I honestly didn’t think of the Men in Black (who first became known on April 10th, 2010, after we had started filming) sniping and shooting RPG rockets out of the red shirt zone at the curry vendor etc. It can’t be helped if Thaksin’s scriptman takes from the same archetypal sources as I do. As many people do. (Writing that down has made me mad, to think of the curry vendor’s daughter trying to get her mum into Chula hospital right there and the red shirts abusing them and preventing them from entering the Emergency Room, so that she died an hour later right by the door. It’s not lost to me that it sounds funny, preposterous—CURRY VENDOR HIT BY RPG ROCKET IN FINANCIAL DISTRICT; that poor woman was my age and lived near the mosque across the road from Kathmandu, so I feel like I must’ve passed her in the street. I’m glad we inadvertently anticipated the Men in Black).

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“The dinner party scene with the ghost is too long. Why don’t you cut it?”

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Them: “Our criticisms are only suggestions. We’re not asking you to cut this or that. In all our discussions, you keep on pleading for understanding from us. Yet not once have you conceded or been receptive to us. Can we not reach a compromise?”

M: “Meaning?”

Them: “Take this week to consider our suggestions to you. Come back again next Monday to present something new [a new attitude].”

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Them: “I see here that you’ve actually asked [in the rating preference boxes in the form we had to fill] for ‘This film should be recommended for viewing’. (M: “His face was mocking our ridiculous temerity.”)

M: “It’s a film that promotes morality, so of course it should be recommended for viewing.”

Them: (stumped) “Mm”

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Afterwards, left alone with Manit, the friendly official consoled him, “Oh, we’re not going to ban your film. The committee had learned its lesson from the banning of ‘Insects in the Backyard’, which caused the director to become famous and now the head of the directors’ guild.”

Manit’s conclusions to me: “Unbelievable. But I actually felt good when I came out. You want to ban us, go ahead. Whatever happens, we’ll face it. These people live in fear and on fear. If they give us a 20+ rating, I would appeal, because I want students to come and see it. 18 year olds are studying Shakespeare at university; why can’t they be allowed to see a Thai film of Macbeth?”

The very next morning we went to the National Film Archive. I had agreed a month earlier to speak on an EU-sponsored panel of ASEAN documentarians called ‘Dancing on the Barbed Wire’ re the challenges of making films under censorship. This was serendipity, not conspiracy with the collusion of those nice people at the NFA. The Burmese filmmaker talked of military rule; the Philipina film NGO talked about kidnapping and assassination; the Indonesian guy talked of working with the system; I talked of self-censorship in a climate of fear. Then I asked Manit to take my seat so the audience could hear it from the horse’s mouth. He got a big laugh when he said they wanted to blur the Blue Diamond necklace.

So the torture chamber continues. I know you’re all worn out, as am I. But this is clearly going to be a marathon run. ‘Til next Monday then.

Ing K

28 March 2012

Bangkok