Statement to the Administrative Court on 5 July 2017



Statement to the Administrative Court on 5 July 2017
by plaintiff # 2, director of the banned film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’

[Administrative Court Case # 1321/2555: ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ producer plaintiff #1 & director plaintiff #2 against the Film Censorship Board defendant #1; the National Film Board defendant #2 & the Ministry of Culture defendant #3. The statement below, read aloud to 5 judges in court, is translated from Thai.]

Your Honour,

I believe the law exists to preserve dharma [harmony in tune with natural balance] in society. This is why I’m forced to fight for what is right, despite knowing full well that to struggle against those with the power to rule over the destiny of Thai cinema is not something any filmmaker would willingly do, in an industry ruled by the very few with boundless power while all the rest are entirely without negotiating power.

When a film is banned, it’s a life sentence. Far more severe a punishment than meted out to drunk drivers or even vote-buying politicians, who are only temporarily banned, even though they cause enormous national harm.
Worse, the use of a banning law that wields power according to the personal deliberation of 7 board members entails the risk of power abuse against the intent of the law, and unethical injustice through discriminatory use of the law at the whim of those who wield it.

As may be seen in the later case of the film ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ [‘The Sky is Low, the Land is High’; official English title ‘Boundary’] which clearly proves that I was intentionally unjustly discriminated against, when there was a reversal of the ban against the documentary, the film board demanding only the minor removal of some sound to overturn the ban without the film’s makers having to file an appeal in any way whatsoever.
The case of ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ clearly demonstrates to me and the public that the process of deliberation by the National Film Board lacks neutrality & equality in practice, and can be shortcut at personal whim.
The bypassing of the appeal process, which producers of ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ did not personally file and proceed themselves but  carried out by the board itself, meant that after the banning order was issued on 24 April 2013 it was overturned on 26 April 2013, or merely 2 days later. This is unprecendented in the history of film censorship. The board members told the media that it was all a misunderstanding by the sub-committee, and further claimed that the said film had applied as a DVD (for distribution and rental), not as a theatrical release. This is entirely false, as after receiving a rating of 18+ (not even 20+), this film was immediately released in a cinema in the normal way.

The ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ case clearly shows that the film censorship process is subject to political interference. The announcement to ban the film was made at a press conference on 24 April 2013 by Mrs Prisana Pongtadsirikul herself, then permanent secretary [highest bureaucrat] of the Ministry of Culture. It’s impossible that a civil servant of such seniority would’ve been ignorant of the correct procedure of film censorship. Without a doubt the reversal of such an order could not have been made except by those with power above the Culture Ministry’s Permanent Secretary.
Examination of the content of the documentary ‘Fah Tum Pandin Soong’ would reveal that the film creates a negative image of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in the violent political events of 2010; this being the political opposition party to the Yingluck Shinawatra administration which was in charge of the country at the time, the permission to show the film therefore directly benefits the government.
The reverse is true of the content of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, a direct translation of an ancient 400 year old play ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare, which might have upset the feelings of some politicians at that time, since the film reflects upon the fate of a megalomaniacal ruler of a country.

Apart from direct legal evidence proving that the banning order against ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ is an illegal abuse of power, lacking in standard and neutrality, the issue concerned is cinema, a branch of art and media. The implications and ramifications are therefore complex and subtle with a wide-ranging impact on society. Please kindly allow me the time to explain the consequences, both to myself and to society at large, arising from the misuse of this law with no sense of social and moral responsibility.
With the Court’s permission, I’d like to bring forward certain conclusions gained from the experience of having my work banned—a labour of love which so many of us strived and toiled with all our strength, our money, our hearts and years of our lives to create to the best of our ability.

I believe that the case of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ does not merely concern “one horror movie” and our personal pain and damages. It is a model case on the question of what it is to be human, and is therefore in the public eye and concerns the public’s interest, with the potential to ignite or douse the hopes of a large number of people, both the filmmakers and the audience or the general public.

Professional Impact

                The use of Article 26(7) of the Royal Edict on Film & Video BE 2551 has an impact on our profession, menacing, oppressing and destroying the life and morale of not only the maker of the banned film but also demoralizing for every Thai filmmaker, harming the potential of cinema as a “creative industry” which every government claims to support and promote.

                Aside from the fundamental issue of human rights—the right to pursue a profession and the right to freedom of expression, which all other media in Thailand enjoy except cinema, robbing Thai filmmakers of their rights and freedom and dignity, the negative impact on cinema as a creative industry must also be considered. Clause 7 of Article 26 lends itself to wrongful exercise of power, discrimination and the destruction of persons which the government at the time deems a political enemy, further undermining Thai film producers’ sense of security in their investment and profession.
So long as 7 faceless people in a dark room continue to have the absolute right to rule on the destiny of films that filmmakers have devoted time, money and morale to for many years, there can be no free flow of ideas and investor confidence. With everything dependent on the personal deliberation of these 7 people, filmmakers have no insurance and legal rights and protection, which other professions enjoy as a matter of course.
This being so, investors dare not invest in screenplays that ‘differ’ from what they’ve seen, or that has any original thought. For this reason filmmakers are afraid to think and to be creative. This is a significant factor holding back Thai cinema in a state of paralysis, so that “Thai cinema can’t seem to really get a move on”, as we like to complain, as we are doomed to recycle nonsense, unable to explore any of Thai society’s problems or its dark side, unable to touch relevant content or even be inspired by our own history.

                Meanwhile most of the world has the right to take or be inspired by any point of view and way of life, by the whole world and its history. You may observe that nations with the highest degree of freedom of expression also have the strongest cinematic culture and film industry, able to attract viewers all over the world. Their products are able to transcend language and cultural barriers because they’re based on screenplays conceived in freedom of the imagination.
It’s impossible for Thai cinema to compete in the market place with these fortunate souls. Because the Thai government and Thai law send Thai filmmakers into the boxing ring in ball and chains.

The Government Should Befriend Artists

                If Thailand wishes to gain income from art, Thailand must trust artists, including filmmakers, the same way we trust doctors in medicine and chefs in the kitchen; trust teachers, police and soldiers to carry out their work professionally, work that the average man doesn’t know how to do. You must trust the specialists in their field.

Thailand must trust artists; stop regarding artists as a toxic and dangerous enemy. This unfriendly attitude is not conducive to a creative atmosphere.
Thailand must dare to allow Thai art to evolve and flourish according to its natural flow. Art comes from inspiration that artists receive from various things in the society around them coupled with their own reactions and response, distilled and crystallised through personal experience, depth of wisdom, understanding and feeling, which is then expressed. Art that is born of such a true and natural process in this way, that can flourish without pressure and set boundary, undisturbed and interfered with by outside people who really don’t know their stuff, this is art that is potent and alive.
Art, including cinema, that has as its source a set agenda and limits pre-ordained by the government, meaning art under state or other control, is lifeless art. Everyone can sense this undeniable truth.
Lifeless art doesn’t sell, because it is unable to touch the viewers’ hearts and minds, unable to inspire and generate constructive discussion that leads to an enhanced ability to ponder and analyse problems. Because art that is dead cannot inspire and strengthen the audience. This is why Thai cinema is unable to reach its potential, unable to earn as much for Thailand as it could do. True art cannot exist and cannot be born without freedom. Controlled art is lifeless and uncommercial.

Reasons of Good Governance

From past experience, it’s clear that the banning of a film is dependent upon the prevailing political atmosphere and corresponding ethical values, which tend to shift according to the character of the people who come into governmental power. Worse, since the Prime Minister is the chairperson of the National Film Board, the politically all-powerful may order any film to be banned at any time, right over the heads of the censor board members, by exploiting Article 26(7) as a political tool.
This is another factor that erodes filmmakers’ security of life and property, and promotes opportunity for bribery or power abuse above the law, through the power of a law that contradicts present day reality.

Impact on the Audience
Apart from the people’s loss of opportunity to see a Shakespearean film that received funding from them, the taxpayers, other deep repercussions remain:

1. The Deep Impact on Democracy

Instead of banning films that the censors deem as social toxin or divisive, Thailand should give every side the opportunity to make films that reflect their individuality and point of view.
If Thailand had the courage to have faith in its own citizens in this way, the Thai audience would be exposed to every point of view and taste, which is naturally a positive thing for the development of true democracy in Thailand. If we keep on banning each other’s thoughts and feelings, we will never understand each other.

2. To Build Cultural Tolerance and Immunity

Lack of freedom of thought weakens Thai cinema so that it can’t compete with or fight the influence of the advertising and public relations industry, which by its nature only coarsens the heart and mind with materialistic obsessions, leading to the myriad social problems that we see around us today.
Thai films of quality and freedom would help to build mental immunity, which would bring a balance between the material and the spirit in Thai society.
As well, freedom of thought would create a cultural diversity in Thai cinema, a good thing for both commerce and the evolution of cultural forbearance, in the readiness to experience opinions and tastes that differ from what each person is accustomed to; this is the foundation of democracy.

3. Confront Reality
Present-day reality including online means no one can block any communication, any longer, anywhere in the world. In this light it is nonsensical to ban films. Not only is it ineffective in blocking information, it further enfeebles the country and the culture. It is a great loss for Thai society that the national intelligentsia [as in “the part of a nation that aspires to think independently”- Oxford Dictionary] is barred from taking part in the national conversation.

                We’re forever saying how worried we are that Thai people have grown more stupid every year. Each time we check, Thai children’s average IQ falls ever lower, so that it is now below the global mean.
I did not make a Shakespearean film out of a desire to look cool or because I worship Western culture.  It’s not something you’d lightly decide to do on a lark, merely to shame a politician.
Shakespeare does not belong only to England but to all the world.  His work is a priceless cultural heritage of man that teaches us how to analyse others and ourselves.  I would like to know why, for what possible reason, Thai people must be denied this legacy of mankind, which the rest of the world, people of all nations, have enjoyed for centuries?  How many more times will a Thai film be made from a Shakespeare play?  This one is the first and could well be the last.
Thai people have always been receptive to popular Western culture, especially the unbeneficial, the trite and inane as well as the harmful; junk food and poison of all kinds. Why then are we not permitted to enjoy the cream of it—that which is an antidote to poison, cultural vitamins that would fortify the public’s immunity against weakening influences—the part of their culture that made them a superpower while we crawl around in the dust? Can you imagine an England where Shakespeare had never been?  Why do we welcome only their junk culture and keep out their best?

Impact on Ethics and Spirituality
                Please allow me to quote part of a statement I made to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on 5 July 2012—this very day, 5 years ago.*( FCCT file )          

In modern times, the cinema of a nation is the child of that culture’s imagination. 
All other mass media are at least legally protected. In theory, TV, radio, newspapers are free. But film is not. Movies can be banned. The brainchildren of filmmakers can be prejudged as social poison by seven faceless people in a dark room and summarily executed.
Why are movies so feared?  Our film legislation is supposed to protect the public from cultural poison, yet its effects have been exactly the opposite. It harms not just filmmakers like us, but the public. We have an enormous untapped wealth of stories to tell, but we’re forced by law and by fear to limit ourselves to shallow themes and treatments. We are not permitted to examine ourselves: our cultures, our wounds of history, our very soul.
The public is fed a diet of superficial dramas, horror and action. Imagine not being allowed to use chilies in Thai cooking because it is deemed too strong for our stomach, and being force-fed the mental equivalent of kiddie meals all your life. This is the state of Thai cinema, and therefore the state of the Thai public imagination.  Censorship keeps us bland and weak, stupid, slow-witted and hypocritical—all the things that Thai people are traditionally not supposed to be.
By trying to control our imagination, the Thai state sees all the arts and media through the prism of propaganda and social engineering. The state believes that you can socially engineer The People to be Good by showing examples of Goodness and Decency and suppressing all examples of Evil and Indecency.

This is why the censors think my version of ‘Macbeth’ is a “disgrace to Thai public morality and the Patriotic Dignity of the nation,” as well as being violent and divisive. They really don’t understand that you can learn from a bad example: a man who could have been great who loses it all through his insatiable greed and ambition. In ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, we essentially watch a man examine himself and then deciding to self-destruct. That’s exactly why I chose to do ‘Macbeth’. Shakespeare does have the potential to be especially disturbing for Thai people, precisely because he is the best antidote to propaganda, to the bombastic mindset. Shakespeare is deeply spiritual, deeply moral, yet totally non-judgemental, non-moralistic.

Countries that enjoy freedom of expression in all the arts, including cinema, are able to counterbalance, and build up social immunity against, the overwhelming onslaught of mindless commercialism and political manipulation. There’s almost nothing in Thailand to counterbalance the seductive power of advertising and the spin of corporate and political PR machines. So most Thai people are not media literate. We’re fed a constant diet of TV soaps, gameshows and advertising. We don’t stand a chance. To me, this is the root cause of our current problems. How can we have a peaceful society with real democracy without media literacy? This is why film is deadly serious for me.
Cinema is seen as nonsensical, yet toxic.  What of megalomania, injustice, legal discrimination, oppression and threats? Are these not far worse social perils? Denial of the truth, denial of self-knowledge, is surely far more dangerous than any movie, especially the first and only Thai Shakespearean film that the Ministry of Culture itself funded so that Thai people would have the chance to experience the work of “the world’s poet”.

 That is what art is for: to know ourselves. That is what true artists are supposed to do; to help us explore ourselves, especially our darkest, darkest dreams, so we can be horrified by them and know ourselves. Thailand is lost precisely because it keeps its imagination in chains.  Without a free national cinema, a country cannot ever be free.

Final issue: Lifting the ban is beneficial for the nation’s image

                The order to ban and then to uphold the ban on a Thai film made from an immortal play regularly taught in middle schools all over the world for generations, made international news causing derisive amazement all over the world.  The lifting of this banning order would therefore have a positive effect on the Thai government’s democratic credibility.

                In the long term, any government with the courage to make history by ending the banning of film in Thailand would receive warm admiration from all corners of the world and Thai society. Thailand would have a democratic and friendly image for investors and tourists. For the government that ends film-banning, the gain in terms of image and good will is immense, with no loss to the state whatsoever since the rating system would still be in place.
If any film transgressed any law, such as Article 112 (Lese Majeste) or slandered anyone, specific criminal and libel laws exist to deal with any such transgression.

                In three years I’ll be sixty, well aware that any struggle for freedom and dignity for Thai cinema is unlikely to bear fruit for me personally given the limited time and strength left to me. But I cherish the hope that our children’s children, film lovers and filmmakers alike, will have the chance to enjoy a brighter future, life and career.

Respectfully and Truthfully,
Miss Smanrat Kanjanavanit [Ing K]
Director, Editor and Play Translator