The Russian and Thai film industries stand very independent of, and different from, one another, but it’s hard not to see parallels between the two when news that Russia is developing a “Code of Ethics” for its film industry breaks on the same day that The Hollywood Reporter runs an interview with the directors of a Thai documentary that generally explores the history of the Thai government, but also makes bold statements about censorship in the country.
On the Russian side of things, the government has put together a group to develop the ethics code that was originally suggested by President Vladamir Putin. The group, which will function under the direction of the Russian Union of Filmmakers, includes several high profile Russian directors and producers. The idea is being likened to the Hays Code in the U.S., precursor to the MPAA rating system that governed motion picture content from 1934 to 1968. Chief in the Hays Code, more officially known as the Production Code, were these general stipulations:
- No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin.
- Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
- Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
– as listed in Hollywood vs. Hardcore: How the Struggle Over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry
The code goes on to list stipulations for how subjects like sex and violence should be handled on screen.
The head of the Russian producers guild, Rinat Davletyarov, applauded the motion, calling Hollywood’s time under the Hays Code its “golden age.” Putin previously suggested that such a code would benefit the Russian film industry by limiting violence on-screen and promote better local filmmaking. Russia already has an extensive ratings system, which opponents to the new ethics code say is plenty to regulate content, and it’s unclear how the new code would interface with the existing system. Certainly, some fear a return to Soviet-era government regulation of the arts, though at present there’s nothing to suggest such drastic censorship is taking place.
No, the censorship, insofar as this morning’s news is concerned, is taking place in Thailand. Accomplished Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang and his producing partner Pasakorn Pramoolwong recently completed a documentary of the political history of Thailand entitled Paradoxocracy. Thailand, a constitutional monarchy, has strict laws regarding disparagement of the royal family, and government censorship is common.
While researching we went back to look at standard Thai textbooks and we found that very little is written about this in the education system– just two lines in official school books about the birth of democracy in Thailand. Not only that but the textbooks suggest that King Rama 7 is actually the father of democracy – that he gave us democracy. But, in reality, that’s not the case. There was a huge revolution and fights and a struggle to win power for the people – but we were never told that in school. We were all told that this king was so generous that he gave us democracy.
– Pen-ek Ratanaruang, co-director of Paradoxocracy
Ratanaruang and Pramoolwong say they haven’t, and never set out to make a film attacking the government; they were very conscious of government censors and only set out to make an even documentary based on their own interest in the subject matter. After a lot of self-censoring along the way, “We thought it would pass without any cuts,” they said.
As it transpired, the government did allow the film to screen in Thailand, but only after some sections were removed. The compromise?
We were going to blackout the English subtitles and make the Thai dialog silent in these parts. I said I would cooperate, as long as the audience knows that the film has been censored. I was sure they would say no. But they said okay.
Ratanaruang and Pramoolwong go on to describe a number of other frustrations they did run into while making and attempting to exhibit the film (such as theaters dissuading moviegoers for fear of government reprisal if the film was too popular). As mentioned above, the full interview can be found here.