After agonizing over whether to cancel the festival, he sent out a press release at around 4:20 this afternoon, announcing the festival would be called off due to the heavy presence of military forces on the island, placed there ahead of the ASEAN meeting of regional government leaders.
But minutes after the press release was sent, the government announced it was postponing the ASEAN meeting until October.
“I just sent out 1,000 press releases and 15 minutes later I learn that the government is calling off its meeting,” Rosenberg says.
Canceling the cancellation of the film festival was out of the question, he said.
Big-name Hollywood guests had made plans to come for the fest from June 4 to 11 –- actor Adrian Brody and producer Darnell Martin were coming to promote the Asian premiere of Cadillac Records, while director Gus Van Sant was coming in support of his latest film, Milk.
"To call them and say the festival was back on, well, people would think I'm a big flake."
While "wild man" Van Sant was game to come to Thailand no matter what, to have fun surfing and hanging out, Rosenberg said Brody was “squeamish” about the presence of troops, tanks and roadblocks in Phuket.
The ASEAN Plus Six regional-government meeting was to be held on June 13 and 14. The meeting, now set for October, had been originally planned in Pattaya on April 11 and 12, but red-shirt anti-government protesters stormed the venue, forcing government leaders to flee. The red-shirt protests then spread back to Bangkok and continued for two days until military anti-riot troops put a stop to it. The heavy military build-up and "scary" training exercises in Phuket were all in preparation to make sure there was no disruption from the red shirts. Nonetheless, "unsettled political trouble" was cited as the reason for the ASEAN summit to again be delayed.
Rosenberg said he thought about postponing the fest until August, but none of his stars would be available then.
“I’ve been through an emotional wringer,” he says. “I’m tired. It’s time to just let it rest.”
He’s not sure when the next edition of the Phuket Film Festival will be held.
Meanwhile, there’s another fest -– the World Comedy Film Festival set for Bangkok from June 10 to 16. It overlapped the Phuket fest by two days, which was another factor in making the decision to cancel the fest. The comedy festival is being organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand.
The scheduling conflict and the money being spent by the TAT –- 14 million baht for comedy versus less than 1 million baht for Phuket –- was another issue Rosenberg had problems with.
"It's a slap in the face to to the people of Phuket," Rosenberg said.
The political problems, the economic downturn, swine-flu fears and now the government's indecisiveness are all factors that make life hell for event planners, turn off tourists and keep investors away.
The Phuket festival was first held in October 2007. The second edition of the festival had been in the planning stages since at least last July. It was to have featured the Asian premiere of the Thai-Hollywood romantic comedy Bitter/Sweet, a Spotlight on Taiwanese Film,
Here's the press release, announcing the festival's cancellation:
Organizers of the Phuket Film Festival shut down the Festival just two weeks from its June 4 – 11 run date.
"We sincerely apologize to our partners, our participating filmmakers and those on Phuket who were helping to make this international event happen," said Scott Rosenberg, festival organizer. "But with creation of an armed state on Phuket for protection of the ASEAN meeting which will take place days after the Festival is to end, we found that the "sanook" (fun) we had promised folks, was gone from the Festival."
Festival organizers are also concerned about reports that foreigners on the island are booking vacations off the island during this period to avoid being inconvenienced by road blocks, traffic jams, etc. Also, police have been warning guesthouses and hotels about bookings from northern Thailand (afraid that dissident "red shirts" will travel to disrupt meeting).
"If people from Bangkok cannot travel down to catch our movies and events and foreigners who are our target audience on the island are fleeing during this time period - there goes our box-office take which helps subsidize the Festival," commented Mr. Rosenberg.
The Festival, which was to play 30 award-winning films from 13 countries, was set to host over 30 filmmakers, producers and sales agents from around the world including Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong), acclaimed director Gus Van Sant (Milk, Good Will Hunting), and Directors Guild of America-nominated director Darnell Martin (Cadillac Records, Their Eyes Were Watching God).
"We're saddened that this event which was growing in stature in the world of film festivals was not given the attention necessary by the Thai government to carry on in a manner which would have showcased the Phuket region as a prime location destination for filming," said Mr. Rosenberg.
"While the government has said that a curfew would not be put in place, the Army is reportedly sending an additional 5,000 troops to the island to secure a peaceful meeting. We just cannot take the chance," Mr. Rosenberg continued. "Filmmakers view the world in terms of images: we don't want them walking away from the Phuket Film Festival with memories of armed soldiers and tanks-no matter what the reason.
That is NOT how we want people to remember Amazing Thailand."
Amazing indeed. And very, very sad.
Update: Hollywood Reporter is on it.
Update 2: Safety 'not a concern'; rescheduling difficulties blamed (The Nation)
Update 3: Bangkok Pundit has a good post illustrating just how meaningless the June dates for the ASEAN summit were -- it shouldn't have been planned in the first place, because they probably had no intention of actually holding the meeting. What an awful, horrible waste.
Update 4: Scott Rosenberg recounts the whole sad affair at Absolutely Bangkok, "So You Want to Run a Thai Film Festival?"