Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai documentary reaches across Preah Vihear border



Thai documentary reaches across Preah Vihear border

Bangkok native Nontawat Numbenchapol documented both sides of the Preah Vihear conflict
Bangkok native Nontawat Numbenchapol documented both sides of the Preah Vihear conflict. Bennett Murray

Thai documentary reaches across Preah Vihear border

A film about the Cambodia-Thailand border conflict at Preah Vihear that has courted controversy in Thailand will be screened at Meta House this evening.

The documentary Boundary by Thai filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol explores both sides of the conflict for a nuanced portrayal of the violence over the 11th-century temple.

In an interview at Meta House yesterday, Nontawat said he originally meant for the film to explore the Thai 2010 political crisis that culminated in a bloody crackdown against anti-government “red shirt” protesters in Bangkok in May of that year.

“Before I made the documentary, I was not interested in Thai politics, but at that time everyone in Bangkok was affected,” he said.

But his plans changed when he travelled to Sisaket province near the Cambodian border in 2011 to capture footage of a former Thai conscript who had taken part in the crackdown. Finding the border engulfed in tension, he interviewed the local Thai villagers caught up in the skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers.

Deadly clashes occurred periodically along the border from 2008 to 2011 after Preah Vihear temple was listed as a Cambodian UNESCO World Heritage site against Thailand’s wishes.

Nontawat said that when he looked back at the footage from his interviews, it appeared biased towards the Thai side of the conflict. He realised he had to cross the border to speak with the Cambodian villagers at Preah Vihear.

As the border was closed, he flew to Phnom Penh to find a guide to take him to the conflict zone. But finding a Cambodian willing to cooperate took him about a year as many assumed he was a spy.

Nontawat was finally able to access the Cambodian side of the story when a French-Cambodian filmmaker told him of a Cambodian woman he had met at a New York film festival who happened to be from a village along Preah Vihear’s border. The woman, who was happy to have a Thai filmmaker tell Cambodia’s side of the story, agreed to take him if he disguised his identity.

“I told everyone I was a friend from New York, a Chinese-American named Thomas,” he said with a laugh.

He found that Cambodians were angry with the Thais, accusing them of stealing their temple and afraid that they would even one day try to capture Angkor Wat.

But on the Thai side, he discovered that the locals were also angry with the Bangkok government for inflaming relations with Cambodia. The violence and subsequent border closure, he was told, caused great disruption to local commerce.

“Before they had good lives and everyone had friendships and good relationships with Cambodians. But when some people from Bangkok protested about [Preah Vihear] and the border was closed and there was a war, people who lived on the border had problems with their lives,” said Nontawat.

The film was temporarily banned in April 2013 by the Thai film censors, but the ban was rescinded shortly afterwards when the story was picked up by the international media.

Nontawat said: “It was the talk of the town, and everyone blamed the censors for being silly. They called me two days later, and they unbanned it. I think because of the power of democracy.”

Boundary will be screened 7pm tonight at Meta House followed by a Q&A.

MOST VIEWED

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement