Thai Arthouse Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul Laments Local Censorship

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The Cannes Palme d'Or-winning auteur has said he would rather not screen his films in Thailand, if doing so entails self-censorship or brings him personal risk.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or in 2010, says he won't show his latest film Cemetery of Splendour in his native Thailand, since doing so would force him to exercise self-censorship or face personal risk. 

Thailand has been under the control of an unelected military Junta since last year, when prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was thrown out of power in a coup. Since then, the Thai military government has clamped down on all forms of expression that could be perceived as a rebuke to its rule.

Apichatpong's Cemetery of Splendour, which has received strong reviews since its premiere at Cannes in May, is a lyrical and enigmatic work suffused with coded references to Thai politics. Set in a small, rural city in the northeast of Thailand where Apirchatpong grew up, the film tells a story of magic, romance and dreams as it follows a middle-aged woman who volunteers to care for soldiers who have fallen ill to a mysterious sleeping sickness. A nuanced political lament lurks in the story, but it requires a somewhat studied eye in the Thai situation to discern.

"Whatever movies we have produced, we don't want to show it to Thai audiences because in the current situation we don't have genuine freedom," Apichatpong told the BBC Friday. "I don't want to be part of a system where the movie director has to exercise self-censorship," he added.

Thailand has experienced a dozen military coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. While the country has one of the more prosperous economies in Southeast Asia and remains a hotspot for international tourists, many Thais feel that political violence is a persistent, latent threat to civic order.

"I feel there is more violence in our country than in others that are in similar situations," Apichatpong said. "And I am sad to see that I don't have any power or rights to speak because I know if I speak, harm will come to me."

Cemetery of Splendour got its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival in September. Strand Releasing acquired North American distribution rights for the film at Cannes.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads Thailand's military leadership, had promised democratic elections and a return to civilian government before the end of 2015. But the military has insisted on a constitutional referendum first. The process was delayed after a council hand-picked by the military rejected a controversial draft for a new constitution.

Although internationally acclaimed, Apitchatpong's work has gotten limited exposure at home. His 2006 feature, Syndromes and a Century, was planned for a limited theatrical release there, but became held up when Thailand's Board of Censors demanded the removal of four scenes, two showing doctors kissing and drinking in a hospital, and others depicting Buddhist monks playing guitar or playing with a remote control flying toy. The board said the scenes displayed "inappropriate conduct."