Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First World Comedy Film Festival wraps up with award for The Wedding Game

Note: Lekha J. Shankar attended Tuesday night's closing ceremonies of the World Comedy Film Festival, and she sent the following report.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar

Thailand's first World Comedy Film Festival concluded on Tuesday night with an entertaining closing film, the Hong Kong romantic comedy Look for a Star. There was also clowning around on the dais and Aussie stars strutting the red carpet at Bangkok's CentralWorld shopping center.

Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham's The Wedding Game was named Best Comedy Film. Starring Singaporean couple Christopher Lee and Fann Wong, it had opened the festival and was part of an eight-film lineup for the International Competition.

There are plans for a general theatrical release of both The Wedding Game and Look for a Star in Thailand. Sahamongkol has The Wedding Game and plans to roll it out on July 30, while Rose Media has slated a limited release for Look for a Star.

Singh is King, the mega-budget Bollywood comedy, shot in Australia, got a Special Mention. The best comedian award went to Lim Won-hie, star of the South Korean spy spoof Dachimawa Lee. The Audience Award went to Silent Wedding from Romania.

As for the Short Film category, the top award went to Australian stand-up comedian Murray Fahey for The Code, while Norwegian filmmaker Anne Sewitsky’s Oh, My God won a special mention. The Audience Award for short films was won by Los Angeles filmmaker Kevin Acevedos’ The Last Page.

That Audience Awards were given was ironic because attendance of the festival's films was pretty sparse.

American director Ari Gold, whose entertaining film on the unique subject of air-drummers, Adventures of Power has been to about 20 festivals around the world, including Sundance and Karlovy Vary, called the World Comedy Film Festival "strange" because of the lack of interaction with an audience.

Treated as a VIP, he was amazed at being flown to Phuket and spending a night in a super-luxurious room, which he heard cost as much as US$1,200 a night.

More opulence was to follow at Sunday's "Thai Nite" in the Siam City Hotel, when all the "celebrities" -- comedians, actors and TV stars, mostly from Australia, and little known in Thailand -- dressed up in spectacular traditional Thai costumes and raved about their fantastic trip to the Kingdom.

Probably the biggest actual celebrity was pocket-sized comedian Verne Troyer, who perched on the shoulder of his friend and said he only wished they would make less cars in Thailand, to ease traffic.

Attending the event were Malaysian filmmakers Hans Isaac and Afdlin Shauki, whose film Wash, about an Olympic window-cleaning competition, was screened in the Asian Comedy section. But "Thai Night" conflicted with the screening, and they were disappointed to miss it.

Another filmmaker who was disappointed at not having a Q&A for his film because he was asked to join a dinner cruise instead, was told consolingly that there wouldn’t be an audience in any case.

Singaporean director Jack Neo, who had a retrospective of three of his films, was shocked that he only had one person in the hall to watch his super-hit Money No Enough.

So what was the purpose of holding this 70-millon-baht film festival?

To make audiences laugh and celebrate comedy films, or to have a great party and celebrate the Land of Smiles?

Making audiences laugh would have been welcome in these troubled times, but showing the festival's guests a good time was the raison d'être.

Which is a pity, because a comedy festival should work well in a country like Thailand, where there are not too many takers for serious cinema. Judging by the loud laughs from the sparse audience, at a superb film like Leonid Gaidai's Diamond Arm, one felt sorry there were not more audiences to enjoy the Russian classic comedy, which was also shown on Sunday.

When asked if the Comedy Festival would continue, Weersak Kowsurat, chairman of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said he hoped it could be held at least once in two years. When queried by about the sparse audiences, he said with honesty that they "had not worked at audiences". Instead, they had worked at the daily 30-second television beaming of the stand-up comedians’ acts around the world, which would give a boost to the depleted image of Thailand after the political disturbances.

Well, the motley bunch of Australian stars who attended the festival will certainly have a lot to talk about, when they get back home,

And the party is not yet over. Wednesday is a day trip to Pattaya, which will reiterate that the beach-town has been cleansed of the swine flu.

Now that the image of the Kingdom has been resurrected, one hopes that the Bangkok International Film Festival (BKKIFF) to follow -- the dates were finally announced for September 24 to 30 -- will focus on quality films and quantity audiences -- as every film festival should.

The BKKIFF did it fairly successfully last year and this year should be better. They would also go one notch higher, if organizers arranged for a strong interaction between folks from the Thai movie industry and those from abroad, which would be benefical to both.

The foreign filmmakers at the World Comedy Film Festival felt this was a big "miss" of the festival. Some of them "accidentally" met Thai director Ekachai, actor Gof Akara and actress Mamee Nakprasitte and said they thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.

The local stars who enjoyed the festival the most were the local farang stand-up comedians, Jonathan Samson and Joey Chernyims. They performed at the "Thai Nite" and said they’d never met so many comedians from around the world.

“This festival was a great exposure for comedy!” they exclaimed.

Hopefully, the World Comedy Festival will continue, and hopefully, a lot more audiences will partake in it, and realize that “ A day without laughter, is a day wasted.”

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