Compared with its Southeast Asian neighbors, Thailand has a relatively high degree of tolerance for LGBT individuals. At the same time, LGBT films — and filmmakers — aren’t particularly common in the nation or the region at large. This makes Palatpol Mingpornpichit rather unique.
Mingpornpichit is the director of Fathers, a family drama that explores the struggles that a gay Thai couple must go through to raise a young boy named Butr (fun fact: “Butr” means “boy” in Pali, an ancient language that has influenced Thai).
Cinema Escapist recently chatted with Mingpornpichit about what led him to make the Fathers, and his thoughts on the film’s broader social context.
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What inspired you to make Fathers, and was it at all difficult to get the film off the ground?
The film stems from my desire to raise a child. My partner and I have been in a relationship for twelve years — but even though I have this desire, I will never try to act on it. [As a LGBT individual in Thailand], raising a child is not easy at all.
As for making the movie — it was difficult in the sense that I had to do everything on my own. Besides being a producer and freelance screenwriter, I had to find financial support, search for the cast, and handle both promotions and distribution. Everything relied on me, and I consider myself lucky that I was able to find a crew that had faith in me.
What was it like working with child actors on a film that addresses many delicate topics about family and growing up?
Honestly, such delicate topics were not a problem. When working with [Aritach Pipattangkul, the child actor who plays Butr], all we had to do was break the ice and make him trust us. Then, we’d simply explain what context he needed to know on a scene-by-scene basis.
In fact, it was actually harder to deal with his naughtiness and curiosity. Sometimes he’d lose concentration while shooting, but overall he’s still very clever and has a very good memory.
From watching Fathers, it seems like while many Thais don’t yet see LGBT couples as “normal”, they don’t virulently hate them either. How accurate is that as an impression of real-life Thai attitudes towards LGBT individuals?
If you ask me, I think that Thais see LGBT couples as normal, which is pretty impressive.
At the same time, not too many [LGBT] couples have long-term relations. Thus, the notion of a LGBT “family” is quite novel to Thai society, and sometimes awkward moments arise when people speak about LGBT adoptions. It’s very rare to find LGBT families in Thailand.
There’s a generational divide too. Younger Thais tend to just judge people by their abilities, whilst older, more conservative ones may still focus on social status.
As we see in Fathers, Phoon and Yuke are a professionally successful, upper-class couple — as opposed to being from more modest upbringings. Was that an intentional choice?
I would actually characterize them as upper middle class. I’m not sure what the case is in other countries but, in Thailand, if you want to adopt a child, you must have strong financial status. So you can see that reflected in the film.
Overall, the main point that I wanted to convey is [LGBT parents’] attitudes towards children, and the ways in which they foster these children. There wasn’t any intentional point about social status.
Taiwan recently legalized same-sex marriage, and there’s apparently talk from Thailand’s Ministry of Justice about reviving a stalled same-sex equality bill. Are you hopeful that there might be more progress on Thai LGBT rights in the near future?
That same sex marriage bill has been proposed in parliament many times, and it’s still under consideration. But Thailand’s political situation, and past instances of instability, makes it so that the bill isn’t a top priority — so it keeps getting postponed. That’s why, in my opinion, passing that same-sex marriage bill is not going to happen in the near future. But I still hope that we won’t have to wait for too long.
Do you have any hopes for Fathers as it reaches a broader international audience?
I’m really glad that the movie has been able to screen for people in thirteen different countries. We’ve got DVD orders from ten other countries as well, and now we’re streaming online in China, Taiwan, and on FilmDoo.com for the rest of the world.
I’m really appreciative of how much everyone loved the movie. That means a lot to me, and has encouraged me to devote myself to making more films in the future.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length.