Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bangkok has two cultural festivals in September

While the Bangkok International Film Festival is set for September 24 to 30, there's another culture festival going on this month in the city, making Bangkok a real culture hub, according to Lekha Shankar. She takes a look at the offerings of Bangkok's 11th International Festival of Dance and Music and how the film festival might learn a thing or two from the long-running, much-anticipated annual dance-and-music feast.

Story by Lekha J Shankar

September is turning out to be the toughest month for the culture buffs in Bangkok, as they are spoiled for choices on the entertainment front.

The Bangkok International Film Festival (September 24-30) is still three weeks away, but starting Monday (September 7) is Bangkok's 11th International Festival of Dance and Music. Running until October 17, it is the premier cultural event in Thailand, and this year it receives support from the Ministry of Culture. The governmental support puts the festival on par with the much-touted festivals of Singapore and Hong Kong, which also boast major film festivals.

At a recent press conference, Tuenjai Sinthuvnik of the government's Public Relations Department said that the two festivals in September would be a big boost for Thailand on the international cultural arena.

While the film festival boasts award-winning movies from the top festivals of the world, the Dance and Music Festival has multiple-award-winning artists from countries as varied as Russia, Portugal, Spain, India, and this year, show-stoppers from China and Taiwan. The full-length operas they have been staging have not been matched even by the Singapore's prized Arts Festival.

This year, Bangkok's fest boasts a spectacular Cinderella-on-ice show from the UK, which will need three days to set up in the Thailand Cultural Centre.

“All this will show what Thailand is capable off,” said JS Uberoi, chairman of the organizing company, International Cultural Promotions. He says the 120-million-baht festival is being held “not to make money, but to expose Thai audiences to world-class shows.”

Can the Bangkok International Film Festival claim the same motives, with the ongoing corruption investigation against the previous head of the film festival and its sponsor the Tourism Authority of Thailand?

But one thing the film festival can take a cue from the Festival of Dance and Music is the opportunity the latter gives to youths to attend the shows.

According to Uberoi, at least 200 youngsters are provided free tickets for every show, courtesy the Siam Cement Foundation, which pays a modest 200 baht for tickets that cost several thousand baht, and a lot more, abroad.

Movie tickets are much cheaper, and the film festival should certainly be promoted among the schools and colleges in Bangkok, as this is a rare opportunity to be exposed to world cinema.

Other things to ponder on: How about a stronger "Thai" participation in the program for both the festivals? How come Sawasdee Bangkok is being premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and not in Bangkok? Why do Thai ballet dancers only seem to get noticed when they are part of foreign ballet troupes and not local ones in the Kingdom’s biggest cultural festival?

That said, the two festivals have a lot of good stuff to appease culture buffs this month.

Like the Festival of Dance and Music, the film festival will hopefully be fully endorsed by the government and promoted actively by its media machinery.

Oh, here's one more event: Victor Silakong, director of the World Film Festival of Bangkok (November 6 to 15) will stage a version of Carmen at the Alliance Francaise on September 26 and 27 and October 3 and 4. He describes it as “a dance-drama with the best performers in the city!"

That’s good news for the "missing" Thai talent in the big festivals of the Kingdom.

See also:

(Photo courtesy of International Cultural Promotions)

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