Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Bangkok International Film Festival will go on

The sixth Bangkok International Film Festival will be held from September 23 to 30, organizers announced yesterday at a press conference, held in the Crown Atrium of the King Power duty-free complex. While journalists and film-industry players feasted on tuna sandwiches, the Aksra Theatre puppet troupe mingled with the crowd, and a group of umbrella-spinning, golden-paint-flecked dancers put on a show.

Junhaporn Rerngronasa, deputy governor for marketing communications of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the festival will continue as a "world class" event, and she emphasized that for the first year the TAT was cooperating with the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand (FNFAT) to co-host the event. Here's an excerpt from the translated text of her speech:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has organized the Bangkok International Film Festival for five years, and now in its sixth year it will be presented for the first time as a result of co-operation and collaboration between all parties. It is a great opportunity for Thailand to support the film industry and establish a position as the cultural and entertainment hub of the region."

FNFAT president Jareuk Kaljareuk, who is the festival director, said the festival's focus will be on films from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc. Here's some of his speech:

This year our emphasis is on films and filmmakers from the ASEAN region. As the film industries of the region develop and strengthen, Thailand has an important role to play in this growing film culture. New technologies present new opportunities for filmmakers to present their visions. One of the challenges is how to accept international techniques and influences and to achieve success in a global marketplace without losing the unique cultural voice of the region.

Not much other information was provided. Reporters had to work the sidelines, between bites of tuna sandwiches, to pump out other information.

The FNFAT has enlisted Thai Film Directors Assocation president Yongyoot Thongkongton as artistic director, and indie filmmakers Pimpaka Towira and Mei Meksuwan are the programmers. Filmmaker Paul Spurrier, whose film P I have yet to see, is the festival's administrative director.

Pimpaka was quoted in a brief in today's Daily Xpress as saying she doesn’t know how much money she can spend but expects it to be about half of last year’s 80 million baht. Earlier reports have put the TAT's contribution at 20 million baht, so the FNFAT will have to find sponsors to kick in more. Hence, I think, the involvement of duty-free moguls King Power, which is providing its Pullman Hotel for the festival's workshops and the awards banquet. The screenings will be in the same venue as last year, SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

To attract Thai filmgoers, “we plan to introduce Thai-script subtitles this year,” Pimpaka told Daily Xpress. The lack of Thai subs has been a major criticism of the festival in past years, though in past years the festival had a budget that might have easily covered that -- if it hadn't been spent on flying in Hollywood stars for glitzy red-carpet ceremonies, banquets and golf tournaments.

Mei told me they weren't ready to announce any of the films, but an Agence France-Presse article quotes Yongyooth as saying the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, which is premiering at Venice, and the Diego Maradonna biopic from Cannes are strong contenders for the program. "There will be many international films," he is quoted as saying by AFP.

Still hanging over the festival is the taint of a bribery scandal in which a former TAT governor is alleged to have accepted US$1.7 million in bribes from American film producer Gerald Green and his wife Patricia in exchange for awarding the Greens' company a management contract to run the festival. The Greens were arrested last year in Los Angeles by the FBI. But in Thailand, though an investigation found the allegations were "well founded", and the results forwarded to the National Counter Corruption Commission, the case has not progressed.

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