STOP10: It's Not Easy to be Thai - ยินดีด้วยคุณได้รับสิทธิเป็นไท(ย) by Wirada Saelim

It's Not Easy to be Thai - ยินดีด้วยคุณได้รับสิทธิเป็นไท(ย) by Wirada Saelim was screened as part of the 22nd Thai Short Film and Video Festival 2018. Taking on the topic of statelessness that affects an uncounted many even in our modern word today, it gives voice and insight into their lives and the everyday challenges they face.

Jan had spent her whole life looking forward to going home for this sacred ceremony. Although for her, the long wait has come to an end, for other Thais it continues. This documentary is dedicated to all stateless and nationality-less people everywhere in the world where nation states fail to respect our humanity.

SINdie: What was the inspiration to write and direct a film that touched upon citizenship at border towns?

Wirada: As a documentary journalist, I have covered issues related to globalization which is also one of my personal interests. In the world where traveling across borders has never been easier and where the idea of being a ‘world citizen’ allows some digital nomads and business people to benefit from becoming a resident in various nations, it hits me every time when I realize that not everybody has the same opportunity. Nationality still plays a big role in people's lives especially of those marginalized when it comes to having the same equality and being treated the way - which we all deserve as human beings.

In Thailand, approximately 300,000 lives born within the country still stay stateless. Among these are young people who have given up on their dreams of living a better life because of not being granted citizenship. I don’t know how much I can do to be a part of a solution, but I always want to share stories that portray this irony of our time.

How did you manage to meet and learn about the citizenship ceremony and in particular Jan’s story?

I found Jan from an online news article. The headline was about the Dean of the university she’s studying in having given her a surname.

It’s typical, in a heart-wrenching way, for stateless people to only have a first name. Their surnames would either be “No surname” or “-.” I searched her name with her new given surname on Facebook and found her. Then after talking, I found out about her big day of coming home.

Was it a conscious decision for the documentary style?

Yes, it was.

What was the experience of meeting the subjects (e.g Jan, the officials, the other new citizens) during the making of the film?

As you might have seen, there are two main parts of the documentary: Jan and the ceremony. I’m an outsider in both parts but with Jan, I was allowed to be very close, with herself, her parents, and her grandmother and I really wanted to be a part of her family when filming.

For the ceremony, I was the only media on that day witnessing what was going on. It was my first time seeing how the government does it. Because as a Thai person receiving citizenship since birth, you never have to go through such activity. It was the part I tried quite hard to stay out of. I wanted to be invisible and just film what happened. I had to try hard because no matter how much I wanted to be in the same position as Jan, such as when we were outside the ceremony - but being Thai I knew I was seen as a part of the Thai authority.

The most satisfying part was when we took a bus back to Bangkok together. On the road from her hometown, there were a lot of check points where you will be asked to show your ID card. Normally if you see people taking out their folder of documents, chances are that they are stateless because they have to ask for permission, with accompanying official documentation to travel, even just to the neighboring province. Jan used to do the same, but this time she showed her newly received ID to the police and I knew it was one of my best journeys.

As national identify becomes an increasingly important topic today with events around the world, how do you feel Jan’s story contributes to that conversation?

Jan is an ordinary girl who shares a lot of similarities with all of us as a human being. Seeing her somewhere in a random place or even talking to her, we would not want to spend the whole time indicating how she is different compared to us. Instead, we will love how lovely, thoughtful and compassionate she is. And I think that is the same with how we want it to be when it comes to others seeing ourselves.

We are now living in the world affected by the fact that some people have been left behind when countries opened their borders. An increasing number of nations want to close their gates, saving their people’s privileges. That’s an issue we cannot ignore. But at the same time, I don’t think we can solve it by repeating and giving the same feeling to Jan and other people who have different backgrounds, especially when they have a desire to contribute their dreams and potential.

How has feedback on the short film been?

As a Thai person watching the documentary, some people find the ceremony very beautiful portraying Thai national values, while others find it very hard to watch without feeling bad about having their Thai identity.

If you missed It's Not Easy to be Thai at the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, you can watch it on Youtube here:

Written by Ivan Choong
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