New Film Act gives hope to wary industry

BANGKOK In Thailand, the government doesn’t seem to realize that the film biz has evolved in the past 70 years or so. In fact, the country’s Film Act dates back to 1930 and the pre-democratic era.

While the military-backed junta has done plenty to make itself look like a force of reactionary conservatism in the seven months since it came to power, it may now have a chance to display some liberal leanings by helping modernize the film industry.

Censorship is the most contentious issue. But unlike more repressive regimes, in Thailand, media such as newspapers, TV and radio are relatively free of censorship. Only motion pictures, which are not classified as a form of mass media, are so strictly regulated.

The issue came to a head recently when the Censorship Board demanded director Apichatpong Weerasethakul cut four scenes from prize-winning arthouse pic “Syndromes and a Century.” The director refused to make the cuts and withdrew his film from commercial release (Daily Variety, April 13, 2007.) Responding to the controversy, a group of filmmakers formed the Free Thai Cinema Movement, co-founded by the Thai Film Foundation, Thai Directors Assn. and Bioscope magazine.

The Free Thai Cinema Movement is asking the government, as it draws up a new constitution, to officially classify movies as a recognized form of mass media.

“Film is the only part of the chain that has been left out,” says Prachya Pinkaew, the multihyphenate filmmaker of “Ong-Bak” and “The Protector.”

Government is now preparing to submit a new draft of the Film Act to parliament after years of neglect from previous regimes. However, according to sources, the draft law has been written by lawmakers who have only limited understanding of the film industry. And the final draft has not been opened to review or consultation with the industry.

Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, a member of the royal family and the helmer responsible for the boffo “King Naresuan,” joined other directors in submitting a separate petition asking for similar recognition. Given the government’s track record of steamrolling anything it does not like or considers not Thai enough — it banned one broadcaster and bankrupted another — filmmakers have been frightened by earlier drafts of the law, which contradictorily proposes both a rating system and the right of the state to ban films.

“The new film act will definitely contain a rating system, and it will try to incorporate the public and industry people in the process of categorizing each film,” says a rep for the Culture Ministry.

As well as the freedom of expression clauses, the industry is hoping the new Film Act will establish a body to oversee the entire biz from regulation to promotion and location shooting. So far, the government has supported the industry in fits and starts only, such as the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s sponsorship of the Bangkok Film Festival, which helped promote the industry outside the country.

While there is no sign of government further extending industry funding beyond the Culture Ministry’s occasional coin for special projects, most would settle for greater clarity at this stage.

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