As ever, a shameful pity
(By: Kong Rithdee)
On December 8, 2007, I reported on this page that "... in two weeks cabinet will officially approve the re-structuring of the National Film Archive from a section in the Department of Fine Arts to become a public organisation, or ongkarn mahachon, which means greater autonomy, liberation from the vice of red tape, and more generous funding."
Such optimism, alas, is bordering on naivete in the shape-shifting labyrinth of Thai politics governed by the vagaries of its tricky and powerful players.
From two weeks it has become seven months, and the administration has yet to ink the official approval to set the National Film Archive free from the prejudice of the old system and to improve it into a relevant cultural service agency.
When the new cabinet took over from the previous one at the beginning of 2008, they predictably shelved most of the activities tabled by their predecessors, whom they seem to regard with professional disdain. How much this suspension is performed for the sake of the country and how much it is concerned with back-door negotiation and invisible interest is hard to determine. But since the Samak administration has absolutely zero idea of cultural policy (except appointing Girly Berry as the models of traditional Thai teens during Songkran), we're in for a curse of the philistine.
In fact, the prospect is pretty grim. Deputy Prime Minister Suwit Khunkitti has sent all the files of the proposed public organisations back to the approving committee, and there's a possibility that he will eventually reject most of them. This means that the National Film Archive, whose case has been deliberated by successive ministers in the past seven years, may not be elevated to its preferred status despite the support from previous administrations. If vetoed by Mr Suwit, the archive might forever lose its chance to build its case, find itself stuck in the bureaucratic backwaters, and the audio-visual treasure of this country will remain in a state of serious jeopardy from lack of funding and resources.
This blatant ignorance to preserve important national heritage by this government - old film clips and historic movies, needless to say, are part of our national identity and visual records of our ideas, temperament, tradition, artistry, diversity, even our very existence, as well as the backbone of our cultural meme - is a shame since the cabinet is puffing its chest and claiming to be the hero in the Preah Vihear saga, our "proud" historical treasure.
Likewise with the politicians in the opposite camp; when they roast the cabinet over its unwise decision regarding the disputed Hindu temple, they failed to raise the point that there are many other national heritages worth protecting, conserving and improving - look at the state of our national library, national museum, the film archive, or historic houses around the country.
That the Preah Vihear scandal is a politicised issue is unquestionable, but it's particularly sad when it makes you realise that those men would never care about temple ruins or ancient books unless somehow they promote their own self-interest.
The Film Archive survives on the absurd budget of three million baht a year. Let me remind you that two years ago - when some of the current ministers also served in the Thaksin administration - the government had no qualms about splashing nearly 200 million baht to fund the Bangkok International Film Festival, a gaudy, fun and hopeless 10-day affair that later became a shameful showcase of high-profile corruption.
(As usual, no one here has yet been indicted, though the American firm that was contracted by the Thai government to run the festival was busted by the FBI on the charge of bribing Thai officials).
By becoming a public organisation, the Film Archive will be able to perform its job of preserving and even popularising historic motion pictures more properly. That, sadly, is not to be.
The government, however, seems to be more keen on supporting large-scale plans to build movie studios and facilities, for the brighter future of the Thai film industry, as if they know anything about it. I only believe that no future is possible without the past, and to forget the past means you've forfeited the large part of your dignity. The government has very little of that left anyway.