Sunday, September 28, 2008

BKKIFF '08: Festival notes

My films are not long. They are free.
-- Lav Diaz

Choices, choices

  • I didn't get a chance to see Nonzee Nimibutr's Queens of Langkasuka on Friday night, much as I would have liked to attend the premiere. Anyway, I was shabbily dressed and would not have mixed very well with the crowd of models, film stars and other glitterati. I opted instead to see Citizen Juling. I think I made the right choice, since the second showing of Juling on Monday conflicts with my ordinary job. Hopefully, I will have a chance to see Queens at some point in the next month or so. It will be released in Thai cinemas on October 23.

Eric has left the building
  • Main Competition juror Eric Khoo has already departed the festival, reports The Hollywood Reporter. They makes it sound like Eric was mad or something. But there's been no drama. The reality is that he was called back to Singapore to supervise the rush local release of his latest film, My Magic, which will be Singapore's submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He'll finish watching the Bangkok entries on DVD screeners.

Here come the judges
  • Other Main Competition jurors are Filipino director Lav Diaz and Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat. The Southeast Asian Competition is being adjudicated by film programmer Martial Knaebel, actor Ananda Everingham and Oh Jung-wan, the South Korean producer of Three and Three ... Extremes.

Pinoy style
  • Lav Diaz participated in a discussion on Pinoy Cinema, along with Adolf Alix Jr., John Torres and Raya Martin. The talk was moderated by film critic Kittisak Suwanphokin-daeng and the Thai Film Foundation's Chalida Uabumrungjit. I didn't get to stay for the whole session, but at least I heard the lead-off quote of this post. Later, during the intermission for Citizen Juling I got to sit down with Diaz, Martin and Torres. I must have been gushing like a schoolgirl. But really, seeing Diaz' Heremias Book One changed the way I look at cinema. I'm just glad I got to get that off my chest.

Yes, we have subtitles
  • All foreign films have been subtitled in Thai, except for JCVD, which was an impromptu addition to the schedule. The subs are beamed into an extra bit of screen that has been tacked on below the main screen, and as far as I've seen, it looks flawless. The Thai Film Director Association was responsible for this huge undertaking. Kudos and congratulations to the association's president Yongyoot Thongkongtoon (also festival artistic director) for making that happen. It's a long-overdue development in fostering a true appreciation of cinema among people in Thailand.

Gimme some answers, straight answers
  • Nearly every film I've attended has had a Q&A session afterward with the directors. I've been in sessions with Thomas Clay of Soi Cowboy (along with producer Tom Waller and a couple of the cast, including Pimwalee Thampanyasan), Raya Martin (Now Showing), Nan Triveni Achnas (The Photograph), and the Citizen Juling trio of Ing K, Manit Sriwanichpoom and Kraisak Choonhavan. The sessions are moderated by the likes of Kong Rithdee and Chalida Uabumrungjit, and are conducted in both English and Thai.

No ghosts, no chance
  • Nan Triveni Achnas struggled to make her latest film, The Photograph, because "nobody wants to see a film about a man dying. Everyone wants to see a happy ending." The acclaimed director of Whispering Sands couldn't find local backing for her film because it was neither horror nor comedy -- even if there are elements of both, if folks would give the film a chance. She spent three years obtaining grants from various cinema funds around the world.

Big comfy chairs
  • I've seen the festival's two most challenging films in terms of length -- the 220-minute Citizen Juling and the 280-minute Now Showing. Both had intermissions about halfway through. But sitting through these films was a breeze, because both were interesting, and the seats at SF World Cinema are very comfortable. Raya Martin said his Now Showing was originally around nine hours long, but he ended up cutting it. It's the first in a trilogy, but parts two and three will probably be ordinary feature-length films.

  • Jean-Claude Van Damme is holding court at the fest. He was working the heavy cocktail party and gala premiere on Friday. He had a press conference on Saturday night ahead of the screening of JCVD, and then hung around for the screening, posing for pictures afterward. I managed to practically bump into him on the escalator as he was departing. I didn't hit either event because I chose to see The Photograph (jaw-droppingly beautiful) and then Brillante Mendoza's pretty awesome Serbis.

Ride 'em
  • Soi Cowboy played just once at the festival, instead of the customary two screenings. Thursday night's show was sold out, with eager audience members sitting in the aisles.
  • Producer Tom Waller says he hopes for an arthouse run for the film in Bangkok. Perhaps this will come after Thailand's motion-picture ratings system is in place. Full-frontal male nudity is cause for censorship concerns.
  • Soi Cowboy director Thomas Clay acknowledges he was influenced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours in hiring of Blissfully's cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. And he says he's seen three of Apichatpong's films. But that's it. Though Clay's Cowboy shares a two-part structure similar to Apichatpong's Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, Clay says his idea came independently.

No admission

  • For Soi Cowboy and Serbis the cinema staff were observing an age-restriction criteria, with a sign saying the film is "18+", restricted to people over 18. They weren't checking IDs, but my ticket was stamped as I went in to Serbis. It's good to see these signs and the beginnings of Thailand's forthcoming motion-picture ratings system coming into practice. Serbis, by the way, was fully booked out last night for its final screening at the fest.

The Road to Bangkok

King B
  • The King of the B's, Roger Corman is in Bangkok. He spoke at the Producer's Conference along with Seven Years in Tibet producer Iain Smith OBE and Bangkok-based filmmaker Paul Spurrier. Corman also hit the red carpet on Friday night for the premiere of Queens of Langkasuka.

(Top photo via Flickr; bottom photo via by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)


  1. Hi, got here by chance from Bisean's blog and I'm stoke! I haven't heard much about Thai films other than their infamous horror genre and it's a great hook up from your site.

  2. well, Eric is scheduled to make an appearance at one of the screenings of My Magic tomorrow (Monday evening).

    Of course I think the scheduling could have been better so that he can juggle both stints, but I guess this is the last week of sorts to have My Magic screened theatrically to qualify for the Oscars


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