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Sunday, December 6, 1998 Published at 10:32 GMT


Trouble in Paradise

Phi Phi: Idyllic setting for The Beach

The filming of a Hollywood blockbuster starring Leonardo Di Caprio is to go ahead in one of the world's most exotic locations despite the protests of environmentalists.

Protesters accuse the film's makers, Twentieth Century Fox, of destroying endangered species on the remote Thai island of Phi Phi.

Under threat are said to be so-called weeds, the Giant Milkweed, Sea Pandanus, and Spider Lilly, all of which live on the intended film set, Maya beach.

[ image: DiCaprio: Star of The Beach]
DiCaprio: Star of The Beach
The Thai authorities say their fears have been addressed and the filming can begin.

The threatened plants are said to be integral parts of the local sand dunes and necessary if beach erosion is not to take place.

There were reports that the producers had ripped the flora up to make way for more exotic plants.

Clean bill of health

Two weeks ago, the local forestry department put a stop to pre-production of The Beach, based on the best-selling novel by the UK author Alex Garland.

Green activists moved in to camp on the site and protect the area which is classed as part of a national park.

But the potency of their demonstration was somewhat nullified when an ecological survey commissioned by the local forestry agency concluded any damage to the beach could be rectified.

'Good for tourism'

The Thai co-ordinator for the movie, Santa Pestanij, said he was relieved the film could proceed but was still concerned by the continuing protests by both environmentalists and local residents.

On a recent discussion programme for Thai television, Santa tried to justify the decision by the Scottish producer, Andrew Macdonald, to bulldoze the beach, reshape the coconut grove and clear it of its natural scrub.

Holes were dug to plant about 600 extra coconut trees in the area. "When we've finished filming we can restore it. This will be a restoration and the creation of a new tourist attraction," said Santa.

But one Phi Phi hotel owner was not convinced. "Maya is natural. I don't want a muncipal park. I want nature. Maya is beautiful as it is. We have plenty of tourists." said Wanlert Kittithorakul.


[ image: Storm clouds over filming plans]
Storm clouds over filming plans
In its editorial earlier this year, the Nation newspaper in Bangkok said the authorities were trying to suppress any protests.

It said: "Some environmentalists in Bangkok, Krabi and Phuket are now subject to official scrutiny as 'opposition'.

"Some have received threats if they become more vocal against proposed changes to Maya Bay. The Beach is heading towards becoming a film not about paradise, but about the tragedy of an island and the people of a country who cannot protect their precious little spots of nature from commercial vandalism."

Fox, owned by Sky boss Rupert Murdoch, has already paid 63,000 towards local forestry funds and left an 80,000 bond against any environmental damage.

Nice earner

Leonordo DiCaprio will earn an estimated 12m to play the lead role in The Beach.

He will be a traveller who stumbles across a mysterious island in Thailand inhabited by a group of backpackers.

Mr Macdonald, who was behind the cult British films Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, told the Guardian newspaper in the UK that he had made guarantees to the Thai authorities.

"We've employed a horticulturist and irrigation specialist," he said. The film goes into full production next month.

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Editorial on The Beach controversy - The Nation

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