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Source:  http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/31504/film-funding-raises-eyebrows

Film funding raises eyebrows

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Opinion » Opinion

Film funding raises eyebrows

  • Published: 23/01/2010 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: News

This week, I'm writing the column in my capacity as a part-time filmmaker who has followed the Ministry of Culture's plan to distribute 200 million baht (more is on the way) to Thai filmmakers.

I won't bite my lips as I say I intend to apply for the funding in a bid to finish my little documentary, but my concern over the rules and criteria as issued by the ministry is a legitimate concern of any filmmaker and citizen who wishes to see our tax money being spread around wisely and fairly.

When the Culture Ministry announced last week that, for the first time, there will be a state fund to help the film industry, TV reporters sang praises to the plan as if a Thai ghost flick had won the Oscar.

The designated 200 million baht is coming through the Creative Economy campaign under the Thai Khem Khaeng budget. Meaning: it will be used to cultivate creative thinking and production of moving images, and it is only fair to interpret that the budget will be used to support artists who, without the government's help, would not be able to bring their creative ideas to life.

But the distribution of the fund - 280 million more will come in May - has raised more than a few questions over the logic behind the plan.

Of the 200 million baht, the National Board of Film and Television decreed last week that 160 million (or 80%) will go to support feature-length films produced by the commercial film industry; 10 million will go to independent and documentary films; 10 million will go to TV and movie series; 10 million will go to animation makers; and 10 million baht will be used to help video game designers.

In short, 80% of this "first-ever financial support from the government" will basically go to commercial, profit-seeking film studios - and likely to the special case of King Naresuan Parts III and IV, which are officially backed by the PM for their nationalist and historical values.

One condition, however, is that the studios that receive the money will have to treat it as an interest-free loan that must be returned to the state coffers; meanwhile money given to non-commercial projects and film students is a non-committal grant.

Can a government inject taxpayers' money to subsidise commercial banks or failing industries?

Yes, last year the US government did that, to the chagrin of many Americans. But are movies as important as banks? Should the government help ease the cash flow of movie studios, who can make movies anyway, even without state support?

Considering that the new funding has been set up under the Culture Ministry through the Creative Economy banner, the allocation is disturbingly lopsided.

If the rationale is to boost the country's GDP through the entertainment sector, the budget should have come through the Commerce or Industry Ministry - not the Culture Ministry, whose responsibility should be more about promoting creative diversity and giving opportunities to young artists, and not about subsidising private companies.

And while we're talking economics: Will 200 million baht really ruffle the national GDP? You don't need Paul Krugman to answer that.

Movies are trivial, expensive and transient. It's a good sign that the state realises that they're not, that they're economically and culturally integral to the development of the nation and its people.

But this move shows that the ministry may not have its heart in the right place. Commercial studios will ask for 10, 20, or even the total 160 million baht from the funding to produce big movies.

And the alloted budget will end up helping one, two, or no more than five projects.

Whereas small-time independent filmmakers or students would jump for joy if they were granted 50,000 or 100,000 baht - meaning that the budget could contribute to a hundred projects that would otherwise remain just ideas.

To sow the seeds of creativity, the Culture Ministry must not define the term "Thai films" as only historical epics or anything with muay Thai and monks.

I agree that the mainstream studios should receive financial support from the government, like South Korea has done to evident success.

But it is equally important not to judge everything in terms of GDP, and to spread the opportunities far and wide (again, like South Korea has done to evident success).

The Culture Ministry must show creativity in its management of the creativity funds.So far it hasn't.

Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post real.time section.

Relate Search: Creative Economy, Thai Khem Khaeng, Paul Krugman

About the author

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Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Reporter

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