Thai Documentary ‘Censors Must Die’ Gets Screening Approval From State Censorship Board

A promotional still from "Censors Must Die"
A promotional still from "Censors Must Die"
 

Who says film censors don’t have a sense of humor?

Thailand’s film censorship board has approved the release of Censors Must Die, a local documentary made to lampoon and expose the bureaucratic irrationalities of the censorship board itself.

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Directed by Thai filmmaker Ing K and her husband Manit Sriwanichpoom, one of Thailand’s leading art photographers, the documentary was made in response to the censors’ decision last year to ban their feature film Shakespeare Must Die, a Thai-language adaptation of Macbeth with contemporary political shadings. The new film follows K and Manit’s exhausting attempts to appeal the ruling and find help from human rights organizations -- and their last-resort decision to sue the censorship board for financial damages in a local administrative court.

So far, their myriad efforts to bring Shakespeare Must Die to Thai audiences have been fruitless, but in all-too-fitting irony, the much more aggressively critical project – with a title that seems to call for the censors’ deaths, no less – has gotten the green light.

In a statement provided to local newspaper the Bangkok Post, the directors said: "As required by law, this new film was submitted to the censors. We received a letter by post from the Ministry of Culture's Department of Cultural Promotion to inform us of the result of their deliberation: Censors Must Die is exempt from the film censorship process and has been given permission because the film [was made] from events that really happened. Furthermore, due to this exemption from censorship, Censors Must Die has not been rated and may be seen by anyone of any age." 

What the ruling might mean for future documentaries that purport to depict real life events -- and how the body defines such a category -- is not yet clear. 

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It’s been an erratic year for Thailand’s censorship board. In April, the body banned director Nontawat Numbenchapol’s film Boundary, calling it "a threat to national security and international relations.” The film focuses on a soldier who took part in the government crackdown on the “red shirt” political upheaval in Bangkok in 2010 and follows him to his hometown along the Thailand-Cambodia border, an area of ongoing dispute between the two countries.

But two days later, the censorship board abruptly reversed course, stating that the ruling had been a “technical mistake,” as the verdict was issued by a subcommittee that lacks the authority to make such judgments. The film was then approved and rated for audiences of 18 years and above.

In June, leading Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang was required by the board to significantly alter his political documentary, Paradoxocracy. After the body requested that several scenes of interviews with political experts be cut, the director opted to black-out the subtitles and silence the dialog in the sequences -- instead of excising them entirely -- so audiences would be aware that his hand was forced to make changes. The effect resulted in several segments of uneasy silence in the film, where audiences were left to ponder the fact that something was being said that their government didn’t want them to hear. Pen-ek called the blacked-out subtitles “scars,” and said the response during local screenings was mixed, with many local audiences laughing nervously.  

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