Friday, March 3, 2006

Final words on the Bangkok International Film Festival

A couple more articles have rolled in, dissecting the recently completed Bangkok International Film Festival, with IndieWire weighing in, but the guy who really takes the festival to task is the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee. In a 1-2 punch in today's Real Time section, Kong offers his look at the Berlin International Film Festival on the front page, commenting on what is done right there. And then, on an inside page, he slams the Bangkok International Film Festival, offering up much of the same criticism that has dogged the Bangkok fest since its inception.

I'll adopt some of his points, and add a few of my own. Here we go:

Lack of subtitles - How culturally insensitive can you get? It's a slap in the face to its own people that a Thailand government agency funds this festival with taxpayer money and yet does not provide Thai subtitling. What little pure Thai content there was, wasn't very well promoted. At least make an effort to put subtitles on the English-language films. The best scenario would see all films have Thai subtitles, and non-English films would have a second set of English subs. This would include just about everyone in the Kingdom - both Thais and film-loving expat residents.

Too many press passes and VIPs - This is my big complaint. Wandering around at the festival during the week, I was probably the only person in some screenings without a badge or comped ticket. The preponderance of press passes and VIP tickets leads to another problem - auditoriums being marked as fully booked, yet three quarters of the seats are empty by the time the film unspools. I'm not the only one to notice this - Kaiju Shakedown sees this, too - so watch out. Lay down the law - hold press and VIP vouchers up to 30 minutes before showtime. If the vouchers aren't picked up, release the seats to people who are paying for them. Also, I understand that an effort was made to limit the number of freebies this year, but after the announcement was made, there was an outcry by the freeloaders who feel they are entitled for some reason to free festival tickets. So the organizers backed down. Hold your ground. Be firm. The only loss of face there is is your own and the entire festival. Next year, limit the number of press passes to accredited working press and acknowledged staff members

Not enough focus on film - The red-carpet hoopla and the flying in of big stars seriously disgusts me. I guess that directors, producers and stars could get a per diem and have their minimum travel expenses paid - Bangkok's far away from everything, after all. Thing is, they're coming to promote their films - so for the bigger studios, why don't they pick up the tab? But paying huge fees commanded by divas are over and above what is called for. It's robbery, pure and simple. Let the films themselves be the stars. All the celebrities flitting around takes the focus away from the films. It waters down coverage of the festival - with all the celebrities and controversy, it's possible for journalists to turn in an entire story about the film festival without hardly mentioning any films.

No Thai festival organizer - Not to take anything away from Film Festival Management Inc - I'm sure they're doing the best they can, given the circumstances they have to work with. But there should be an experienced Thai film scholar, filmmaker or unbiased industry person as curator of the festival, with enough juice to get the job done. Also, responsibility for organizing the festival should be taken from the Tourism Authority, possibly, and I hesitate to say it - the Culture Ministry, or its Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. With the TAT in charge, the overriding mission of the festival is to promote tourism - particularly to high-end Western tourists. It's too ambitious. It isn't getting the job done. There aren't enough of those kinds of tourists who want to come to Thailand to watch movies. Don't make it a tourist thing - make it a Thai thing - there's an audience here already, without having to spend millions of baht to fly them in. Make it a cultural thing. Film is art. Film is culture. Treat it as such.

High prices: Films should be for everyone, not an exclusive class. The high-end tourists that the festival hopes to attract aren't being attracted in large enough numbers. So the prices are too high. It's not like the festival is making money anyway, so subsidize the prices and make the films available to a bigger audience. 80 or 90 baht is a good price. 140 baht is too high. And 200 baht is outrageous. The prices should be uniform, no matter where the films are being shown, whether it's in a reclining-seat screening room or a big auditorium.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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