Earlier this week, the Thai independent documentary “Boundary” or “ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง” (literally “Low heaven, high ground”) on the Thai-Cambodia border dispute around the ancient Hindu temple Preah Vihear was banned from commercial release by a sub-committee of the Thai national Film and Video Board (see previous coverage) for endangering “national security and international relations” and misinforming an unknowing audience about ongoing legal cases. The Film and Video Board lifted the ban on Thursday, citing a “technical mistake”.

Filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol follows a young Thai ex-soldier who took part in the bloody crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protests 2010 on his way back to his home village in Sisaket province near the border, where the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand was heating up. The movie also features accounts from locals from both sides of the border and mentions Thailand’s other conflicts, such as the insurgency in the Deep South.

A Cambodian temple security guard on patrol at Preah Vihear temple. Pic: AP.

Thailand and Cambodia have been in a territorial dispute since the ownership of the ancient Preah Vihear temple was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by International Courts of Justice, where both countries testified last week in seeking a new ruling on the 4.6 sq km area around the World Heritage site from the ICJ. A verdict is expected in October later this year.

In recent years the conflict has escalated into armed clashes between the two countries. Forty people have been killed since June 2008, hundreds injured and thousands of locals displaced. The Preah Vihear issue is also constantly exploited by Thai ultra-nationalists to drum up anti-Cambodia sentiment and pressure military and politicians, driven by the fear of “losing territory to the Khmer”.

Reports indicated that the censors might have taken offense at a lot of things in the documentary, including soundbites of Cambodian soldiers and villagers criticizing their Thai neighbors, the stated number of casualties of the 2010 red shirt protests (100 vs. officially 84) and footage from the clashes.

“Boundary” would have been the third movie banned from commercial release in Thailand, along with 2010′s “Insect in the Backyard” and 2012′s “Shakespeare Must Die”. The ban unsurprisingly drew much attention and condemnation, especially from foreign media – such as* AP, The Guardian or The Hollywood Reporter – and on social networks. The movie was screened at small movie festivals in Thailand, and also at the Berlinale earlier this year.

Now it seems things have turned, according to the filmmaker on the movie’s Facebook page on Thursday evening:

Ban Verdict Overturned: “Boundary” has been cleared to screen with 18-plus rating

The Film and Video Board, attached to the Office of Cultural Promotion, contacted the filmmaker of Boundary on Thursday to apologize for the “technical mistake” regarding the ban order on Tuesday, April 23. The filmmaker was informed that the ban order was the decision of a sub-committee that in fact has no authority to issue such verdict. Only the main committee has the jurisdiction to do so. When the main committee saw the film on Thursday, April 25, they decided to let the film pass. Also, before banning any movie, the committee is required to allow its director to defend himself, but that didn’t happen on Tuesday.

However, the censors asked the director to remove two seconds of ambience sound in an early scene. That scene is the New Year’s celebration at Ratchaprasong Intersection during which an MC announces on stage: “Let’s count down to celebrate HM the King’s 84th anniversary”. The censors expressed concerns that this might lead to misinterpretation.

The filmmaker realizes that the sound has no significance to the story of the film and agreed to mute it.

The sub-committee who banned the films cited several inappropriate issues and presentation, but the main committee does not object to any of them. Besides those two seconds of audio, the entire film remains intact.

Nontawat Numbenchapol
25 April 2013

(emphasis by me)

A couple of interesting points here: Why does the documentary get an 18+ rating? Also, that part that is to be muted also seems odd – why did the censors take so much offense to it when it bears no significance to the movie? How severely misinterpreted can that part (in Thai “เรามาร่วมเคาท์ดาวน์และร่วมฉลองให้พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว มีพระชนมายุครบ 84 พรรษา” ) be that it needs to be muted?

What went wrong at the Thai Film and Video Board that allegedly a subcommittee was able to order a ban, while it had no power to do so? And how much did the public backlash affect yesterday’s decision?

No details for a release date and locations have been released yet.

* the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also published a press release condemning the ban on Thursday night Bangkok time – just six hours after the ban was already overturned…!
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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and reports for international news media like Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.