Thursday, October 1, 2009

BKKIFF '09: Capsule reviews and notes part 3

And that's it. After just six days?

Yet that was as long as the public portion of the seventh edition of the Bangkok International Film Festival ran, wrapping up on Wednesday night with the closing film Sawasdee Bangkok (review here) and the awards ceremony.

Except for perhaps the cinema owners and some of the people running the festival, I don't think there is anyone who will disagree that six days is not enough time, especially considering there were actually two festivals -- BKKIFF with around 80 films and the first Bangkok International Animation Festival with 40 more features and shorts.

Not that anybody cares what a farang blogger has to say about an event in Thailand, I'll still offer six ways to improve the Bangkok International Film Festival:

  • Return to the 10-day running time. Not everyone in the city has the free time to attend the festival on weekdays. Extending it over two weekends gives more people more opportunities to see more films. Reducing it to just six days shortchanges the audience. It's too abrupt, too perfunctory and smacks of cliquishness and elitism.
  • Have earlier and later show times. Start programs at around 10am sharp, rather than at around noon. Have screening times well into the night, starting at 8. Add a 10pm block as well. Having shows start at 7 is too early for working people. Also, avoid programming films that would attract the same interests at the same time. Mix things up to cater to different tastes across each block of screenings.
  • Midnight shows! For the past couple of years, the festival has programmed a few genre-type films -- horror, fantasy, action -- that would be great midnight programming. Expand on this type of programming, create a special section and play the movies at midnight (as well as other times for people who are awake during the daylight hours). The midnight shows are a huge success in Toronto and other festivals have followed.
  • Enough of the fake Hollywood glamor. The opening ceremony is a joke and an embarrassment. I love Jim Belushi, but how is he relevant to Thailand or any of the films in this year's Bangkok International Film Festival? The whole red carpet thing feels forced and tired. It's not helping to sell Thailand, it's only eliciting sniggers and jeers. Let that aspect of the BKKIFF die. The red-carpet drill was something that was started by corrupt people. It's time to change that culture, wash it away.
  • Make the festival a truly public festival. Encourage people to come. Have reduced-price tickets for students. Give tickets away. For the closing film, there were empty seats and yet friendly, polite, smiling people who genuinely wanted to see the film were being turned away because it was "invitation only" and they didn't have credentials. Make provisions to include the public in the opening and closing film events.
  • Make the movies your event. Do you have world premieres? Say so! Make a big deal about it. Shout it to the world. Aurora and In the House of Straw were world premieres, but nothing was noted about this on the pretty horrendous website. Make each movie screening an event. There's no need for galas or fancy parties when you have 120 movies showing. That's 120 opportunities for directors, actors and show-business people to talk about their films and be seen and photographed, and 120 opportunities for Thailand and the Bangkok International Film Festival to sell their brands.

Kong Rithdee (here too) and Go East Young Woman also have suggestions.

Capsule reviews

Burma VJ

Burma tends to be forgotten on the world stage. Under rule by the military for the past 47 years, the country -- which the junta calls Myanmar -- remains isolated and shunned. But in 2007, in response to a doubling in fuel prices by the government, there were rare public protests, led by Buddhist monks in what became termed the Saffron Revolution. Capturing the protests was a small team of videographers from a network called Democratic Voice of Burma. Burma VJ tells their story. It's narrated by the head of the network, a guy named Joshua, whose halting English has a haunted quality as he describes the fear and paranoia that permeates Burmese society, and it's easy to feel his excitement as he describes what it feels like to lock a camera on a subject and chase after thugs. His eagerness to capture images is what gets him captured by the authorities. They take his camera away and let him go. So he won't pose a threat to the rest of his network, Joshua is put on the sidelines by the DVB, and put in charge of an office in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he'll keep in communication with his cameramen, direct coverage and forward satellite transmissions to the DVB's base in Norway. Footage of the protests from the video-journalists of the DVB is broadcast by CNN and the BBC, bringing a rare look from inside Burma to the rest of the world. There is jubilation and a sense of victory as the protesting monks are allowed to parade past the prison-home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But as quickly as the Saffron Revolution started, it is ended. Monks are arrested -- an act previously thought unthinkable in devoutly Buddhist Burma -- and the will of the public is broken. Soon the remaining members of the DVB disappear. And Burma fades from the headlines. But the sacrifices by the Burma VJs are not forgotten. (5/5)

In the House of Straw

Singaporean filmmaker Chris Yeo Siew Hua's debut film has a theatrical rather than cinematic quality to it. Experimental and conceptual, this strange drama is so full of metaphor it's difficult to understand what is real and what is allegorical. Rooted in the story of Three Little Pigs, a young man declares he is moving out of his parents' house for the summer. Zhi Wen is moving in with his friend Mark, who's studying to be a Catholic priest, and the thuggish Ah Ping. The three, plus Zhi Wen's girlfriend, all hang out, play mahjong, drink beer and dress up in costumes as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion from The Wizard of Oz. It turns out the guys are bicycle thieves, which is only a small part of the story. What House of Straw is really about is individuality and identity, and how Zhi Wen slowly loses his and is absorbed by the other characters by over the course of the film. (4/5)


  1. Absolutely agree, especially with #4 and #5.

  2. Great points. I totally agree with the scheduling. There are a few films I'd like to see but can't b/c of the inconvenient times. The "invite only" stuff is also a turn-off for me as well.

    I'll throw in a more user-friendly website and flyers. List of movies & times without a quick one-liner description won't help people decide to what to see. Full description exists on a separate page. Not fun toggling between the two.

  3. Din know you were at the screening too. Yep, would be nice if they mentioned it's a world premiere. Nonetheless, we were much moved that it was presented in such a nice theatre already :)

  4. Yeah, Bee, I was there. I think. Never can be sure where you are when it comes to a film like In the House of Straw. I should have hung out a bit and looked for you, but I was in a rush afterward to secure my tickets to the "invitation only" closing film. Congratulations on a great reception for the film. I look forward to hearing more about it and seeing whatever you guys do next.


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