The Mail on Sunday June 11, 2006
Film-makers accused of outrageous exploitation as they recreate scenes of carnage
Tsunami orphans forced to relive tragedy as BBC lines road with fake corpses for new mini-series
By Andrew Drummond
IN KHAO UK, THAILAND
and Jo Knowsley
FAMILIES who lost loved ones in the Indian Ocean tsunami have accused the BBC of sick opportunism for filming in resorts that were devastated by the disaster.
TV chiefs claim the mini-series Aftermath, about the tragedy that killed almost 200,000 people on Boxing Day 2004, is a ‘thought-provoking drama of loss, survival and hope’.
But British and Thai families who were caught up in the tsunami say insensitive film-makers are forcing them to relive the horror.
The film is being shot in Khao Lak and Phuket, two of Thailand’s hardest-hit resorts. Nearly 5,400 foreign tourists and locals were killed there when the huge wave struck, and 3,000 more are still missing.Now, just 18 months on, locals are being confronted by gruesome reminders of the tragedy as harrowing scenes are filmed in full view of the public.
At several spots leading into Khao Lak national park, fake corpses were piled along a road on which children orphaned in the disaster travel to school every day.
Elsewhere a ‘corpse’ was introduced hanging upside-down from a 30ft electricity pole. Actors were visible lying bloodstained and prone by streams, in trucks and in mock mortuaries in scenes almost identical to the carnage local children witnessed after the Tsunami.
At a nearby mental health recovery centre, scores of locals are being treated for stress. Psychiatrist Dr Benjaporn Panyayon said yesterday: ‘In the past few days people I have discharged are coming back. Our patients have panic attacks and night-mares and easily burst into tears.
‘This filming would affect them. It’s like showing them a photograph when they are trying to forget.’
Stuart McLeish, from Sheffield, whose brother Andrew and sister-in-law Natalie died in the tragedy, condemned the film-makers for an ‘outrageous’ exploitation of Thailand and its people. He said: ‘I’d like to know why they had to film in Khao Lak and other areas where the disaster occurred.
‘We had the London bombings last year but I don’t think people would react too well if they piled ‘bodies’ in Russell Square.’The whole thing is pretty sick. They probably worked out it would be cheaper to film in Thailand. But they could at least have blocked off the roads so that locals wouldn’t be exposed to this horrible reminder of what happened.’
The three-hour, two-part drama stars Oscar-nominated actress Sophie Okonedo, Gina McKee, Tim Roth and Hugh Bonneville and is being made by the production company Kudos for the BBC and the American cable network HBO.
But despite the traumas, Thai people are rushing to become extras for which they are paid Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£6 a day attracted by posters put up n bars saying: ‘Wanted. Victims. Man, woman,girl, any age, nationality, lots of people!’.Foreigners, many volunteers who came to Thailand to help after the Tsunami, are paid Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20.
Michelle Gray, 23, from Newcastle, a volunteer who teaches English in Khao Lak, said yesterday she now regrets taking part in the production.
She added: ‘When I got onto the seton to the set. Things were so realistic people could have believed there had been another tsunami, and I was not happy about the effect it would have on the locals. I think we all feel a little guilty for taking the money.’
Another volunteer, Sheila Sully, 55, from South London, did not take part but she said: ‘I have been sickened
Roth and Hugh Bonneville and is being made by the production company Kudos for the BBC and the American cable network HBO.
But despite the trauma, Thai people are rushing to become extras for which they are paid just Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£6 a day, attracted by posters put up in bars saying: ‘Wanted. Victims. Man,woman, girl, any age, any nationality. Lots of people!’
Foreigners – many volunteers who came to Thailand to help after the tsunami – are paid Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£20. Michelle Gray, 23, (left) from Newcastle, a volunteer who teaches English in Khao Lak, said yesterday she now regrets taking part in the production. She added: ‘I was shocked when I got onto the set. Things were so realistic people could have believed there had been another tsunami and I was not happy about the effect it would have on the locals.
‘I think we all feel a bit guilty for taking the money.’
Another volunteer Sheila Sulley, 55, from South London, did not take part but she said: ‘I have been sickened by what I have seen.’
Kate Kemp, the British-born co-owner of the Sarojin, a luxury resort that was badly damaged by the tsunami, said:
‘I cried when I saw the bodies dumped by the side of the road and the person hanging from the pylon. I can’t imagine what the locals have had to go through.’
Last night the BBC issued a statement which said the producers were doing ‘everything to ensure the production is carried out with the highest degree of respect, not only for the memories of the individuals who lost their lives but also for those still living in close proximity to the events’.
Jane Featherstone, the film’s executive producer, said: ‘It would have been cheaper to film in somewhere like Australia but we wanted to put the money back into the region which really needs it. Kudos is making a substantial donation to a local charity.
‘We have had endless discussions with Thai authorities and surviving families who believe this film needs to be made. Our aim was to do it sensitively and intelligently.
‘Some people have been upset and I am genuinely sorry about that. I hope they feel it has been worth it when they see the film.’