BANGKOK — The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival canceled its third edition scheduled for next month in part due to a censor review process that is increasingly unwieldy and disadvantages independent organizers.
When organizers of the Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival announced Wednesday they were calling it off this year, they cited issues with sponsorship and an increasingly complicated review process.
“The main reason for canceling this year’s fest is financial problems,” said Thawatchai Deepattana, editor of the Thai edition of Attitude magazine, main organizer of the fest. “And part of it is the complication in submitting movies for the authorities’ approval.”
The confusing bureaucratic requirements for showing films has raised questions about the fairness of a process that seems to benefit state-sanctioned events while putting up barriers for private organizers.
Thawatchai said the decision to cancel their LGBT-themed festival had nothing to do with its content – the films had yet to be selected – but rather the timing. It would have been the first such festival to undergo a new process for getting government approval for its films.
According to the Film and Video Act of 2008, all films in Thailand must be screened for approval with some exceptions such as those produced by government agencies and those showing at certain film festivals. Films can be withheld from showing on grounds of morality, politics, objections from another nation or other sensitivities.
The Gay and Lesbian Festival is organized by Thailand’s Attitude Magazine, but because it shows films from around the world, it is considered a foreign film festival.
In the past, foreign film fests in Thailand were required to submit their selections to tourism officials for consideration 90 days before the event. In April, that responsibility was transferred to the Ministry of Culture after months of uncertainty about when the change would happen.
The canceled festival was due to submit its films during the transition period but decided to call the whole thing off instead.
“There are always problems arranging film festivals in Thailand, especially if you’re not in the government sector,” said an organizer who has experience with the approval process. He asked to speak about it anonymously because out of fear about gaining approval in the future.
He said the process, which is separate from the commercial ratings review, has always been confusing, with petty bureaucratic requirements, such as getting translated titles officially certified and listing films in proper Thai alphabetical order. Sometimes they were just too slow, he added.
In comparison, the highest-profile festivals, many of which enjoy government backing, have it relatively easy.
The Italian, French, Swedish, Japanese and EU film festivals in addition to one promoting Thailand as a filming destination are among those exempt from full review. On May 18, the National Film Board added The Silent Film and Bangkok ASEAN Film festivals to the list. Notably, nine of the 10 festivals on the list are supported by domestic agencies or foreign governments.
The same announcement said those festivals need only submit the synopses and posters for their films for Culture Ministry review two weeks in advance. In most cases, the list can be approved and shown without being reviewed in detail by the committee.
Last year, the tourism department said no to four films planned for the Thailand Film Destination Festival including “Twilight Over Burma,” a dramatization of the real-life romance between an Austrian woman and Shan prince. The film was banned in Myanmar.
In 2013, the World Film Festival of Bangkok was asked to withdraw “To Singapore With Love,” an award-winning documentary on Singaporean exiles filmed in Thailand without permission.
“It’s in the regulations that the committees can screen films that are sensitive,” said Permphol Kantapa, a policy analyst at the Ministry of Culture.
Permphol said certain festivals were exempt because they had been held for more than three years. As for any perceived unfairness in easing review for those involving foreign embassies and ministries, Permphol said it was soft diplomacy.
“It boosts international collaboration and will help people understand different cultures better,” he said.