DiCaprio film 'spoils' sacred Thai island

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The Independent Online
ON A tiny island off southern Thailand a war is being waged between environmentalists and British film producers over a Hollywood adaptation of the best-selling novel The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton.

The production team behind the film Trainspotting has unwittingly sparked controversy over its plans to film on Ko Phi Phi Leh in the Andaman Sea. The island is a sacred site and a protected national park where officially not a flower may be picked or a stone overturned. But 20th Century Fox gained permission in October to dig up the island's Maya Bay, remove shrubs and plant 100 coconut trees.

When the bulldozer moved in, the accusations that Thai law was "up for sale"' grew so loud that the Forestry Department suspended its permission for two weeks pending an inquiry. Its decision is expected todaybut protesters have decided not to wait and are risking arrest by occupying Maya Bay, which they say has already been irrevocably damaged.

"This was not supposed to happen," said a spokeswoman from the Forestry Department. "It will prevent the film crew starting their work."

The production is facing allegations that it has paid protection money and even hired armed guards.

Alex Garland's The Beach follows the adventures of a group of backpackers who join a utopian community on unspoilt land. They encounter a group of armed "goons" guarding a marijuana plantation.

The fact that Maya Bay is not quite perfect enough in the eyes of Hollywood is an irony that has not escaped environmentalists. "Most wild beaches have bushes not coconut trees but that doesn't conform to Hollywood's idea of a tropical island," said Ing Kanjanavit, a green protester.

The Forestry Department originally argued that the film would promote Thailand as a tourist destination, something it does not appear to need.

Andrew Macdonald, the producer, says he and the director, Danny Boyle, thought they had gone through all the right channels when seeking permission. "We never expected to be faced with criticism," he said in a letter to the Bangkok Post.

The company has paid pounds 66,000 to film on the island with a deposit of pounds 83,000 against damage, a small figure compared with the pounds 12m DiCaprio is expected to earn.

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