Sunday, May 29, 2011

9 Film Fest 2011: Winners and notes

The first 9 Film Fest was held last night, mixing short films with live music and beer under a tent in the Parc Paragon outside Bangkok's Siam Paragon.

Nine short films, each nine minutes long and incorporating something about the No 9 in them, were chosen from a reported 184 entries, each made specifically for this festival. All but two were by Thai filmmakers, and all but one were filmed in Thailand.

The shorts were screened in three "acts", broken up in between by performances by the musical acts Calories Blah Blah and Buddha Bless. After the third act, was the awards presentation. A mini-show by the rock band Paradox closed out the evening

The festival was created by Brian Bennett, who started the original Bangkok Film Festival back in 1998. He's patterened the 9 Film Fest after the TropFest in Australia. The Bangkok Post emerged as the major sponsor of the fest, and took it over, driving it with considerable marketing muscle.

Judges on the short-film jury were directors Nonzee Nimibutr, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Pimpaka Towira, actor Ananda Everingham and the newspaper's film critic Kong Rithdee. All except Pen-ek were on hand to give out the awards. Pen-ek was down in Hua Hin, staging his Shoot the Music concert.

The total prize purse was 300,000 baht, split across the various categories.

Here's the line-up of shorts:

  • 9 Days, directed by Meechai Tubphete. This Cloverfield-like home movie is about couple facing nine crisis-filled days, barricaded in their apartment during the apocalypse.
  • The Elevator, directed by Suphasit Tanprasertsupa. A man goes from boyhood to old age in the course of nine floors on an elevator. It's a rather sordid life for the guy. I thought this one was quite clever – one of the best of the evening.
  • Touch Screen, directed by Katan Thammavijitdej. A teenage girl talks with her boyfriend on her touch-screen mobile phone. She is seen through the vertical frame of a cellphone screen, and the text messages are off to the side. This one had an interesting story but was hard to read.
  • The Numberman Theory, directed by Eeji Shimada. A rather odd Japanese man who's obsessed with numbers tries to contort his body into the shapes of the numbers from 1 to 9. The nine minutes are padded out with documentary-style interviews of the bespectacled dude, who admits he's not especially limber. He dons a head-to-toe black Spandex bodysuit anyway and gives it go.
  • Death of a Butterfly, directed by Pongpun Yuencheewit. A woman’s voice reads a sad letter to a man over experimental-film imagery.
  • Navigator, directed by Kanin Ramasoot. A driver and his GPS device get into a fight, break up, then make up. It's a romantic comedy, starring My Girlfriend the Car.
  • Half, directed by Rakphong Rakrien. A political satire by a Thai who lives far away from Thailand and feels ashamed about what’s happening there. Some nice black-and-white imagery.
  • 9 Years Later, directed by Krisanai Piriyarangsan. A soldier trying to find a right spot for an uninterrupted radio signal runs into an enemy. Always ambitious, trying to make a war movie on a tiny budget.
  • Man with a Video Camera, directed by Kris Clijsters. It's Bangkok, post 05/19/2010. Lots of vivid images. A beautiful snapshot of the always-changing, fitfully modernizing city.

And the prizes went to:

  • Best Cinematography: Man with a Video Camera.
  • Jury Prize: Death of Butterfly
  • Special Mention: 9 Years Later
  • Best Actor: The Numberman Theory, Yuto Tanabe
  • Best Actress: Touch Screen, Asia Kohpetch
  • Runner-up: Touch Screen
  • Best Short Film: The Numberman Theory

The Japanese director and actor of The Numberman Theory were both present, which was apparently a surprise, since they had earlier said they couldn't make it. "It's destiny," director Shimada said upon receiving his giant 100,000-baht check from Nonzee Nimibutr.

Overall, it was a fun event, though a bit weird, with the films broken into three acts and then a band coming on to perform for about a half hour in between. So was it a concert or a film festival? Yes is the answer. It was both. And I'm not really sure either worked. Folks who wanted to see films were annoyed at having to listen to the pop music of Calories Blah Blah and the DJ/rap sounds of Buddha Bless. And fans of those bands were annoyed at having to sit through 30 minutes of weird short films. Many of the film fans I know left the event during the musical interludes and did not return.

The seating was arranged in such a way that the audience was forced to schmooze with one another, which was the likely intent of the organizers. It was a party-like atmosphere. There was a couple rows of VIP sofas down front, blocked off by a nylon-ribbon barrier. Then there was an area of little squat tables and little cube-stools you could perch on, chat with your friends and drink Singha beer (a sponsor). In back, off to one side, there were tables and chairs and more sitting, chatting and drinking. Folks were constantly on the search for a place to sit down and stealing and scamming for chairs. There was a big open area under the beer tent, where people stood. They should have put more chairs in.

The atmosphere of conviviality made it difficult to actually see and hear the films. By the end of the evening, most folks where I was sitting were just talking (loudly) and drinking and not watching the films or the music or anything.

Finally, the awards were handed out in a rather dramatic, special-effects laden ceremony.

The bands, the beer, the smoke machines, the shooting confetti, the marketing campaign. How much money was spent? Seems like a lot for one night and nine short low-budget films. Especially when there are other film festivals around Thailand that show dozens upon dozens of features and shorts over the course of a week or more and struggle to find sponsors and raise money for budgets.

For me, the highlight of the night, aside from the films, was seeing the costumed rock band Paradox live. Their performance closed out the event. Paradox is one of the Thai rock bands that performs frequently at festivals and are an audience favorite for good reason – with two back-up singers, one in a luchador mask and the other looking like a character out of Ultraman – these boys put on a show and are solidly rocking. One of their gimmicks is to throw out balloons, balls, beach toys, candy and other prizes. They also spray water, so watch out. They were featured in that recent romance shorts anthology, Love Julinsee. And flamboyant bassist Song Paradox, who usually dresses as a schoolgirl, like a demented little sister of AC/DC's Angus Young, has been featured in a couple of films as well, The Sperm and The Possible, playing a musician.

So music and film do go together. And sometimes it works.

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