Banned at home, Thai filmmakers’ adaptation of Macbeth wins dual prizes at Tripoli fest
By Brian Mertens
Yet another Thai cinematic production has won over a festival jury abroad, despite struggling against film censors at home. Shakespeare Must Die (2012), an allegory of Thailand’s recent political struggles critiquing the legacy of Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed prime minister, was awarded two prizes at Lebanon’s inaugural Tripoli International Film Festival, held in November, which was organized around the theme of “cultural resistance.”
Jurors cited the film’s “courageous and aesthetically radical approach providing an incisive comment on power” in naming it a co-winner of the event’s Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema Award for the best Asian feature. The film, which also took Tripoli’s grand prize for a fiction feature, was produced by conceptual photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom and directed by his wife, Ing Kanjanavanit, also known as Ing K.
“This is a wonderful boost to our morale, giving us great encouragement in our continuing fight to free our film and change the film censorship law in Thailand,” the filmmakers announced on the website of the production, which is a Thai-language adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.
Thailand’s Film and Video Consideration Committee banned the movie as a threat to public order shortly after its completion in 2012. The ban has meant that only a handful of Thais have ever seen the picture, prompting the filmmakers to file a suit against the censorship committee, which as part of the Ministry of Culture was nominally chaired by Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin.
Ing and Manit have also fought back by producing a follow-up documentary titled The Censors Must Die (2013), which chronicles their unrelenting struggles against the ban. In August, the Committee declared that title exempt from censorship and ratings review because it is “based on events that really happened.” However, local cinemas have quietly shunned the new production, limiting its audience to small screenings, for instance as a weeklong showing held in a 14-seat, membership-only cinema club.
Thailand’s 77-year old film-censorship law was revised in 2008 under public pressure following a campaign sparked in part by cuts to six scenes in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (2006). Advocates of free speech charge that this revision to the law represents only a small improvement, since censors can still ban a production. Shakespeare Must Die became the second film to be banned under the new process; the first was Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s sexually explicit Insects in the Backyard in 2010.
Ing’s previous film, Citizen Juling (2008), explores the tensions and ambiguities of the separatist conflict in Thailand’s southernmost provinces. It was the first documentary ever to be named best picture at the Thailand National Film Awards.
Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament in early December after weeks of sometimes violent protests in Bangkok by opponents of her family’s involvement in politics. Outside the capital, however, the Shinawatras enjoy strong support, with their various parties winning the largest share of the vote in the previous five general elections.
Brian Mertens is Thailand desk editor for ArtAsiaPacific.