21 July 2024

A documentary chronicling the short, two-year life of Future Forward Party as a new era for Thai democracy is competing with Hollywood blockbusters and local horror films for cinemagoers’ attention.

“Breaking the Cycle” portrays party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as a democracy hero, aiming to disrupt the vicious circle forged by Thailand’s 13 military coups and the resulting “authoritarian” constitutions.

With a Thai title that translates to “Power, Faith, and Future”, the film is co-directed by Aekaphong Saransate and Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn, who started the project six years ago while in their 20s.

Speaking at the film’s June 1 premiere in Bangkok, the directors revealed they were initially hired by Future Forward to make a small video for a party event in 2018. They launched the documentary project after being impressed by a “small party trying to make a big impact”.

The pair maintained that Thanathorn, 45, was not involved in the production of “Breaking the Cycle”, their first feature-length documentary.

They said the project was self-funded for the first three years, with overseas organizations contributing to the budget later.

Asked if the film was a PR campaign for the party, Aekaphong and Thanakrit reiterated what they told BBC Thai in an interview last year in May: “We didn’t get any money from the party. We became interested in Future Forward and asked for their permission to film. We didn’t know what would happen [to the party],” Thanakrit said.

He added that overseas funding had been sought to “maintain independence from the party as much as possible”.

Box-office failure?

The political documentary received acclaim when it was screened at international film festivals overseas earlier this year, but it has fared poorly as a commercial release at home.

“Breaking the Cycle” had its world premiere at the 2024 “Hot Docs” Canadian International Documentary Festival in April, before playing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May and the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in England last week.

In Thailand, the film earned barely 3 million baht in its first week, after opening on 150 screens across the country on June 6.

The film obtained enthusiastic reviews from many Thai critics, some of whom admitted to being supporters of Future Forward’s reincarnation, Move Forward, which won most MP seats in last year’s election but ended up in opposition.

‘A must for MFP fans’

Anti-coup campaigner Sombat Bunngam-anong said recently that he was happy to watch the movie but cautioned it would not find favour with viewers outside the Thanathorn fan club.

He complained the documentary “lacks depth” for failing to cover the political background before Future Forward’s establishment.

“The film starts with the birth of Future Forward. Although it touches on the [2014] coup, the doc fails to mention the complex political chaos preceding it. So, it becomes a movie that praises an individual. I understand that the directors are avid fans of Thanathorn and Future Forward – that’s why the film is told through the eyes of admirers. [But] it lacks the diversity of relevant viewpoints, weakening its status as a documentary,” said the activist.

Sombat concluded the film was more suited to supporters of Thanathorn, Future Forward, and Move Forward, “who will be moved to tears” when they watch it.

He thanked the co-directors for their effort, however, saying he hoped it would inspire more documentaries that tell the story of Thailand’s political development.

Aiming for big win

The film’s Thai premiere saw Thanathorn take to the stage with the co-directors to discuss the documentary project’s beginnings.

The businessman-turned-politician recalled that he had welcomed the idea to “chronicle our journey” when Aekaphong and Thanakrit asked for permission to film him and other key party figures shortly after Future Forward’s birth in 2018.

“I didn’t think this documentary project would come this far. I am proud of these two people,” he said of the co-directors.

Future Forward came third in its election debut, winning 80 out of 500 MP seats up for grabs at the 2019 national vote.

However, the young party was controversially dissolved after a court ruled that a 191-million-baht loan it had received from Thanathorn was an illegal donation.

Thanathorn and his fellow party executives were banned from politics for 10 years, but they responded by setting up the activist Progressive Movement, which retains influence over Move Forward.

At the premiere, Thanathorn said he expected a decisive win for Move Forward or its successor at the next general election outright. Move Forward is currently facing a dissolution case in the Constitutional Court.

“It doesn’t matter whether the party is Future Forward, Move Forward or a third party: we will be most ready in 2027,” he said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk