Monday, June 7, 2010

Phuket Film Festival 2010: Schedule slashed

After three days of sparse attendance, Phuket Film Festival director Scott Rosenberg felt he had no choice but to cut his losses and reduce the screenings, slashing the fest from 10 days to seven days of programming.

Rain over the weekend was partially blamed for keeping audiences away from the films at the Coliseum Paradise Multiplex in Old Phuket Town.

The high cost of hiring the digital projection equipment is another factor prompting the move.

“It’s embarrassing to have directors come all this way and not have buns in the seats,” Scott told me last night.

Though I have to say, I accidentally ducked in to a screening of the Thai comedy Po Taek and there were lots of "buns in the seats".

Meanwhile, just four or five souls watched the rousing 1979 action-adventure The Mountain Lion (Sua Poo Khao), with director Kom Akadej – also owner of the Coliseum Cineplex Group – in attendance.

Around 30 people hit last night's screening of The Prince & Me 4: The Elephant Adventure – actually a lot of fun – though around half of the crowd were badged VIP guests of the fest. The screening has held in an incredible ancient Egyptian-themed meeting hall, built behind the Green Man pub. That's another story in itself, but I don't have time to tell it.

The fest still ends on Sunday, with the world premiere of Yuthlert Sippapak's Friday Killer. The movie will be shown at a dance club, Stereolab, in Surin Beach.

But during the week, there are no screenings some days at Coliseum Paradise. Monday was dropped, as was Thursday, and most of Tuesday, except for the IIFA-award-winning Bollywood hit, 3 Idiots.

Oh, and Thursday will still have the Meet the Directors night at Cape Yamu, with Darnell Martin of Cadillac Records. She's been hanging out, taking in the sights and enjoying the sun, sand and surf – when it's not raining – with her young son.

At the Coliseum, the focus is on the 35mm prints – French films from the Alliance Francaise, Bollywood films from Bollywood Thai and Repo Men, which looks likely to be the only screening the Forest Whitaker and Jude Law sci-fi movie is going to get in Thailand.

Also, Clash (Bay Rong) director Le Thanh Son came from Vietnam toting 35mm reels of his action film starring Johnny Nguyen and Veronica Ngo.

Which is about the coolest thing I can think of.

The Hollywood-Thai romance Bitter/Sweet (ข้ามฟ้า หาสูตรรัก) will still make its star-studded Thailand premiere at the festival on Friday night, with another screening on Saturday. It opens in a wide release on June 17.

Indie filmmakers, who had their movies on DVD or other digital formats, have had their movies cut completely.

“I’ve been to a lot of film festivals, but never …,” said director Bradley Cox, his words trailing off in disappointment, just after he got the news his film was being dropped.

Cox’s documentary about the slain Cambodian labor activist, Who Killed Chea Vichea?, was to have been shown on Monday.

"Some filmmakers pissed off due to schedule changes," the festival tweeted early in the day. "What's better, being pissed off or embarrassed when film runs without 'buns' in seats?"

The rain has hampered other aspects of the fest. Saturday's gala opening party at Royal Phuket Marina abruptly ended by a shower.

The rain started shortly after a bizarre awards presentation, which had Scott handing the same clear-acrylic conch shell trophy to all the festival sponsors. Because of the red-shirt protests in Bangkok, individual trophies couldn't be completed in time, so Scott had to hand over the sample symbolically and then wrest it away from the person he just gave it to.

Ironically, Dr. Prof. Apinan Poshyananda, the deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Culture, gave a short welcoming speech that alluded to "stormy weather", but he was talking about politics. Some guy was there with a video camera, and you can watch it at The Nation's website.

And it's not just the red shirts Apinan was talking about. Just days before, Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch, who was to attend the festival, was stripped of his portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The new culture minister, Niphit Intharasombat, was royally endorsed over the weekend.

In his address, Apinan said he thought the Phuket fest had a lot of potential.

“You have Cannes in France, Pusan in South Korea. Why not have Phuket as the heart of the film industry in Southeast Asia?”

But after three days of tiny audiences for the second edition of the festival – scheduled and then cancelled last year – the rocky path of the Phuket Film Festival appears to have hit a dead end.

Said Scott last night: “Phuket just isn’t ready for an international film festival.”

Check the schedule.

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