Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Ten Years Thailand

Ten Years Thailand
Ten Years Thailand had its gala premiere yesterday at the Scala cinema in Bangkok. A portmanteau of four short films, by four of the country's most acclaimed directors, it offers a dystopian vision of Thailand a decade from now, and represents a voice of dissent in a time of military rule. Thai history seems destined to repeat itself, stuck in an endless cycle of political instability. Thus, the future predicted by Ten Years Thailand is also a commentary on Thailand's past and present.

The film's first segment, Aditya Assarat's black-and-white 'Sunset', is based on an event that occurred last year. In the film, a group of soldiers inspect an art gallery and order the removal of 'inappropriate' images from a photography exhibition. The film's artist (Sirikanya Thomson) and exhibition (I Laughed so Hard I Cried) are fictional, though in 2017 a group of soldiers demanded the removal of photographs from Harit Srikhao's Whitewash exhibition at Gallery VER in Bangkok. For added verisimilitude, Aditya's restaging of the military's art censorship was filmed at Artist+Run, a gallery adjacent to Gallery VER. As an in-joke, Artist+Run's gallerist Angkrit Ajchariyasophon plays one of the soldiers in the film.

In Wisit Sasanatieng's quirky Citizen Dog (หมานคร), city dwellers all grew tails. 'Catopia', his segment of Ten Years Thailand, is a much darker variant on the theme: almost everyone has (CGI) cat's heads, and the few remaining humans are hunted and killed. The film critiques Thailand's traditional values of social conformity and unity, and also echoes the country's anti-Communist paranoia of the 1970s, when suspected Communists and left-wing students were attacked by militia groups. Yet, despite its political satire, and some full-frontal female nudity in Wisit's segment, Ten Years Thailand was passed uncut by Thailand's censors, and even received a surprisingly lenient '13' rating.

In Chulayarnnon Siriphol's science-fiction segment, 'Planetarium', citizens demonstrate loyalty by standing to respect their leader, and those who lie on the ground in protest (as in Chulayarnnon's short film Planking) are detained. The kitsch design elements (neon pyramids, an animated stargate, and pink costumes) are a mask for an authoritarian regime, just as Thailand's repressive junta pledged to 'bring back happiness to the people'. The leader and her minions all wear Scout uniforms, recalling the Village Scout royalist militia that instigated violent attacks on students in 1976. Ten Years Thailand begins with a quotation adapted from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ("Who controls the past... controls the future"), and 'Planetarium' is the film's most Orwellian segment. Its vision of surveillance and obedience is shared with Thunska Pansittivorakul's Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), which used the same Orwell quote as its tagline.

Ten Years Thailand concludes with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 'Song of the City', in which a man attempts to sell a "Good Sleep Machine" guaranteeing peaceful sleep. Throughout his sales pitch, a statue of military dictator Sarit Thanarat looms over him, indicating the perpetuation of the country's militaristic ideology. Sarit's ominous presence is also felt in Apichatpong's Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), as his portrait hangs on a canteen wall. In that film, which was also made under military rule, soldiers suffer from a mysterious epidemic of sleeping sickness: for Apichatpong, sleep is a metaphor for an oppressive society, and a source of escapism for the oppressed.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Anatomy of Silence

Anatomy of Silence
Pachara Piyasongsoot's exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) is currently on show at Bangkok's Artist+Run gallery. On the surface, Pachara's paintings depict tranquil landscapes, though they also contain hidden meanings relating to Thailand's violent political past. The works are divided into two exhibitions: Nabua (นาบัว) and Sequence (ผลสืบเนื่อง).

The paintings in the Nabua series, which were on show from 24th November to 7th December, feature incongruous objects situated in natural landscapes, such as a temple gate on the seashore. These works allude to Nabua's legacy as a site of state-sanctioned anti-Communist purges.

Specifically, the gate refers to a local temple where Communists were detained in 1965. A slogan painted on the gate ('No Happiness Other than Serenity') conceals the site's sinister legacy, and Pachara uses the slogan as the painting's ironic title. (Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม) also examines anti-Communist violence at Nabua.)

The Sequence series opened on 8th December, and runs until 20th December. The works in this exhibition allude to further acts of state violence and military dictatorship: the 6th October 1976 massacre and the 2006 coup d'état.

'What a Wonderful World: Parallel Side of the Red Gate' (another deeply ironic title) is the most powerful painting in this series. It was inspired by the documentary The Two Brothers (สองพี่น้อง), about two men who were hanged by police from a gate in 1976 for the 'crime' of campaigning against Thanom Kittikachorn's return from exile. Pachara's painting shows the view from the gate, representing the men's last sight before their deaths.

Similarly, 'The Sun Is Gone but I Have a Light' also shows the final viewpoint of a hanged man: that of a taxi driver who hanged himself in protest at the coup. The landscape has been obscured with white paint, rendering the image abstract and literally whitewashing the man's martyrdom.

Another work also refers to a specific victim: 'Undergrowth with the Lovers' features a portrait of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who died in jail while serving a twenty-year sentence for lèse-majesté. (Another Apichatpong connection: his film Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น) features a journal entry ("ขอให้อากงได้ออกมา") calling for Ampon's release.)

The Anatomy of Silence catalogue, with essays by the artist and Thanavi Chotpradit, also includes some of Pachara's earlier works, such as 'The Garden'. This painting features the distinctive tree trunk from Neal Ulevich's photograph of the 1976 massacre.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Freedom Thai Film

Freedom Thai Film
Freedom Thai Film
A panel discussion about Thai film censorship took place this afternoon at BACC in Bangkok. Freedom Thai Film (กู้อิสรภาพหนังไทย), organised by the Thai Film Director Association, was introduced by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, whose Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) was released last year.

The event was prompted by the censorship of Surasak Pongson's Thibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2) last month: three cuts were required before it was passed for release. (I interviewed Surasak before the discussion started, and he explained that he worked around the clock for two days to release the film on time despite the censorship.)

Manit Sriwanichpoom, producer of the still-banned Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย), also took part, as did Theerawat Rujinatham, director of Rap Against Dictatorship's anthemic music video Which Is My Country (ประเทศกูมี). The event was similar to Freedom on Film (สิทธิหนังไทย), a seminar held at BACC in 2013.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Daily Mail
Daily Mail
Two years ago, the Daily Mail newspaper was fined £40,000 for not sufficiently disguising the identity of an alleged sexual-assault victim. On 19th September 2015, the Mail had published a pixelated photograph of a man known by the alias Nick, though only the centre of his face was obscured.

The man, whose real name is Carl Beech, has since been charged with perverting the course of justice, after it became clear that his allegations of a political paedophile network were fabricated. Yesterday, Newcastle Crown Court ruled that his identity could be revealed, and on page five today the Mail has published an unpixelated version of his photograph.