Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Final notes

The 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok thudded to a mellow bass-heavy end on Sunday night, with the outdoor screening of Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, a documentary on the artists of the Jamaican musical genre that built the bridge from the frenetically upbeat ska to the laid-back reggae.

Directed by Stascha Bader, the Swedish-Canadian production caught the star Jamaican recording artists of the mid-1960s as they recorded a 40th anniversary greatest-hits album and put on a reunion concert. The artists included pianist Gladstone Anderson, who with Hopeton Lewis, slowed down the ska beat to make rocksteady for the first rocksteady tune, "Take It Easy". Others were Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Leroy Sibbles, booming-voiced Derrick Morgan, superb guitarist Ernest Ranglin, Dawn Penn and I-Threes, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, and, in a special appearance, Rita Marley. The songs are all strikingly familiar, like "The Tide Is High", which was first recorded by the Paragons in 1966 but became a big hit for Blondie in the 1980s. Griffiths gives it a powerful reading in the film, which shows her on tour in the US. Other songs that resonated are well-known because they appear on the soundtrack to the cult musical crime drama "The Harder They Come". These include "Stop the Train", "Shantytown (007)" and "By the Rivers of Babylon".

The change in venue to Discovery Plaza was a big improvement over last year's, when the Rolling Stones' concert film Shine a Light was marred by the blinding flashing billboard of Parc Paragon that can't be shut off for less than 1 million baht. At Discovery Plaza, the lack of a breeze made it sweaty, but if you just sat and chilled, it was okay. Free beer kept the crowd lubricated. Smoking isn't allowed, otherwise there probably would have been a certain kind of smell in the air.

It was a celebratory end to the festival, and a great way for the festival staff to relax after being cooped up for 10 days in the harsh environment of the Paragon Cineplex. And it was also another chance to experience the culture of outdoor movies in Thailand and watch the projectionists in action. If you missed it, you can watch a reel change in a YouTube clip (embedded below).

A story in Monday's Daily Xpress/The Nation details the closing event, which included the crowd-warming Celebrity Lookalike contest. See, there's no need to fly in celebrities when you can create your own.

Attendance this year was about the same as past years, with I guess an average of around 50 people attending each show. Some movies were packed, while others just had a handful of "mostly crazy people" watching.

Movies that were well attended included this year's Lotus Award honoree Tsai Ming-liang's Face, the public screening of Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History and Olivier Boonjing's Somewhere Between Here and Now. The Belgian-Thai director did a grassroots marketing campaign, in which he worked the backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road and passed out fliers in the theater lobby, urging people to see his romantic drama.

Other wrapups of the festival include Limitless Cinema, which also has a poll, and from Film Sick.

My own top 5 of films I saw for the first time at the World Film Festival of Bangkok are:

Criticisms of the fest that continue to niggle are the lack of Thai subtitles, which festival organizers conceded would help attract bigger audiences. But the festival's corporate sponsors, Nation Multimedia, have yet to come through with a budget for that massive undertaking, and I suppose we are lucky to have the festival at all.

Another criticism I heard was about the venue -- Paragon Cineplex is too loud and too crowded. The big drawback is that festival audience had to jockey through massive lines of people dying to see 2012, so perhaps a dedicated queue for festival-goers would help speed people through.


  1. I am not quite sure but I think you can buy all film festival tickets at Nokia ultrascreen box (or something like that) which is virtually empty all the time.

  2. Yes, the Nokia Ultra Screen window was a good alternative to standing in the long snaking line at the main windows, but it wasn't always open. And on 2012 weekend, even the Ultra Screen line was lengthy and slow.

  3. Thank you very much for the links. I'm glad you like GREEN ROCKING CHAIR and MY WHITE BABY. I like the freeze frames in MY WHITE BABY very much. This film unintentionally makes me think about my own childhood or the time when I still played with some Caucasian-looking dolls. I also like the use of voiceover and animation in this film. I also think GREEN ROCKING CHAIR and THE WET SEASON are "uncategorizable".


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