Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect recent developments.
Two days after Thai authorities banned Boundary, a documentary about Thailand's festering border dispute with Cambodia at Preah Vihear, censors have lifted the ban, citing a "technical mistake". The ban occurred as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) prepares to make a ruling over territory surrounding the 11th century ruins.
Initially, Thai film censors claimed the documentary, which was directed by Nontawat Numbenchapol and debuted in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, was a threat to national security and international relations.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Further, authorities explained that a subcommittee with insufficient authority issued the ban. After watching the film for a second time on Thursday afternoon, censors changed their tune and said they found it inoffensive. The film has since been approved for viewers of 18 years and above.
The film, Boundary, is an account of the border conflict that erupted in 2008 as told by a former soldier living in the area and villagers from Cambodia and Thailand. When fighting intensified two years ago, 17 soldiers and one civilian were killed, while thousands of villagers were displaced.
Last year troops withdrew from the hilltop in the Dangrek Mountains after a demilitarized zone was established in The Hague.
Accounts from both sides of the conflict dating back to a 1962 ICJ ruling are detailed, but apparently a sub-committee governing film and video screening dismissed some of the Cambodian accounts as groundless, adding that some of this information was still before the court.
The ICJ is expected to clarify its 1962 ruling, which ruled that the thousand-year-old temple belonged to Cambodia but failed to definitively demarcate the borders surrounding the site. The land where Preah Vihear sits was occupied by the Khmer Rouge throughout Cambodia’s long running civil wars.
Although it has been lifted, the short-lived ban of Boundary was not an isolated case. Thai censors have made similarly questionable interpretations and harsh rulings in the past.
In 2011, a movie about a transgender father trying to raise two children – Insects in the Backyard – was deemed immoral and banned, while last year a local adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth was banned amid arguments that it was divisive.
Thankfully, things turned out differently for Boundary and Numbenchapol's film can now have an audience.
In an interview with the Hollywood Report Numbenchapol said, "Everyone I've spoken with who's seen it says the film shows the point of view of every side, and that the film is neutral.”
He continued, “My intention was to let the film be a space for the people in the troubled territories to voice their views and feelings to the outside world – which they haven't had a chance to express in other Thai media."