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

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the