Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thailand: The hub of it all

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. One of the drum beats of the old Thaksin administration that was ousted in the 2006 coup, was that it wanted Thailand to be a "hub" -- of anything. A hub of Asian tourism. A hub of Asian auto production. A hub of information technology. A hub of this. A hub of that.

One of the Thaksin administration's initiatives was to promote Thailand as a hub for film production in Asia. And, it largely succeeded on that score, though not necessarily because of the government's plans. Thailand already was a hub for post-production in the region, with a good many films coming out of Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and elsewhere being processed in the labs and studios of Kantana, Oriental Post, The Post Bangkok and Technicolor. Many of the theatrical prints of Hollywood films for the Asia Pacific rim are spooled up in Bangkok.

The Kingdom is a prime location for films from all over the world -- the list of Hollywood productions filmed here is lengthy indeed, with recent productions that include American Gangster, L: Change the World, Rambo and Rescue Dawn.

So I guess there is nothing wrong with the new government of Samak Sundaravej trying to lasso some of that star power to make itself look shiny, and revive some of those old "hub" initiatives of Samak's ideological predecessor, Thaksin. And I suppose the film industry stands to benefit, if the plans will offer some support.

Following recent talks with film industry execs, Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Mingkwan Saengsuwan announced last week that a week-long Thai entertainment fair will be held in September.

Foreign film and music producers would be invited to the fair, which will be a forum for talks with Thai show business executives.

A good deal of cash is on the table, with the Commerce Ministry estimating that 300 billion baht was generated by the entertainment industry in 2007, with 27 billion baht from the film industry, 168 billion baht from related information technology, and the rest from industries such as TV production, animation and radio.

Mingkwan said that in the long term, the government would promote Thai films and the Thai film industry in foreign markets through trade shows and roadshows in foreign countries.

Also, various other agencies, such as the Board of Investment, the Export Promotion Department, the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the Culture Ministry would be asked address the obstacles for the industry and find the ways to draw foreign investment and film shoots. Incentives could include tax refunds, tax breaks and exemptions and a crackdown on piracy.

''A master plan to promote the industry is a must,'' Mingkwan was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.

Hmm. By getting the Culture Ministry involved, might the government take a hard look at its censorship of films?

But, since the censorship issue wasn't specifically mentioned in the recent stories by the Thai News Agency and the Bangkok Post, I don't suppose it is much of a concern, as long as the wheels of industry keep turning, and dumping money in the pockets of those in power at the hub.

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