Thursday, June 16, 2011

Italian Film Festival 2011: Good films, big crowds, bad communication

Bangkok's annual Italian Film Festival was the biggest ever this year, with a huge line-up of recent Italian films, a retrospective on classics by a famous Italian director and even a pair of new classics by Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

I've been traveling, so I missed what I thought would be a pretty good festival. But Bangkok-based movie buff Lekha Shankar was able to attend, and she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha Shankar

Moviemov, the first of a "moveable" Italian film festival that will travel to other Asian countries, had its inaugural session in Bangkok last week, and from all accounts, was a big success. A record 10,000 people partook in the five-day event, which is a very impressive record by Bangkok standards.

For a five-day event, the festival managed a lot – a good mixture of old and new movies, an exotic exhibition of movie-costumes, lectures and workshops.

The major disadvantage of such a short, packed festival, is that there were only single screenings of films, which considerably reduced the festival's reach to Thai audiences.

Nonetheless, Italian Ambassador Michelangelo Pipan was proud of the mega film festival, which received huge support from the state-aided Rome Film Festival. In fact, it was a big delegation from the Rome fest, led by the burly senator and former festival-director Goffredo Bettini, who conducted the festival in Bangkok.

This was both a good, and a bad thing.

Good, because they were professionals. Bad, because they were ignorant of the Thai movie-going culture.

There were many plus-points in the Moviemov festival that Bangkok’s local film festivals could learn from. The choice of films was varied, making them accessible to a wide range of audiences, leading to the rare sight of full houses. Often a second theatre space needed to be used, thanks to the long queues. (Admission was free, and booking seats was more difficult than for paid movies.)

It was a clever move to invite students to attend the screenings, which also contributed to the full houses. More importantly, the films reached out to the youth of the city, whose staple cinema diet are Hollywood blockbusters.

At this festival, they were lured to watch the classic, black-and-white films of comedy master Mario Monicelli, which they would otherwise never get to see.

Films like Cops and Robbers and The Great War were as moving as they were funny.

It was also a clever move to open the festival with a romantic comedy, Manuale de Amore 3, portraying three couples of different ages, the last one being none other than the grand Robert De Niro in a clinch with the voluptuous Monica Belucci. Yes, De Niro actually spoke Italian in the film, confirmed producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, who attended the screening.

The producer, the nephew of famed producer Dino De Laurentiis, said it was a "fantastic" experience to screen the film in Bangkok, a city he had heard a lot about.

To the question as to why this film was the third in a series on love, the dashing producer quipped, with true Italiano spirit “isn’t love the most important thing in the world?”

Love was the central theme in most of the films in the Italian festival, which again, was a big draw with Bangkok’s audiences.

And one heard that the films were chosen with specific Thai audiences in mind.

The issue of family-love, which included gay issues, was brought out in two thought-provoking films – Loose Cannons, by Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek, and I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton.

When questioned about the gay theme that's present in most of his films, Ozpetek said pointedly, before his film's screening, “I’m dealing with different kinds of people in society, and gays are a part of society, aren’t they?”

The director had screened his Facing Windows at the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2004, where it had won the Best Actress Award. He seemed excited to be back in the City of Angels.

Claudio Cupellini, director of A Quiet Life, a riveting Mafia drama that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, was also excited to be in Bangkok. It was a his first visit. He admitted his film was a challenging story, especially since it used two languages – German and Italian – but top actor Toni Servillo’s intense performance won him the Best Actor award at the Rome Film Festival.

While the choice of films was excellent, the main complaint one had about the festival was the lack of communication with the organizers, which offered very little prior information about the films or the films' delegates, losing out on a lot of media and public excitement. This is especially important in a country with limited cinema audiences. While the short-term aim of full halls was achieved, the long-term goal of interaction between the film communities of the two countries was lost.

That was a pity, as it was obvious a huge budget had gone to bring the Italian film folk all the way down to Bangkok. However, the locals did not got to meet or interact with them- neither the Thai film industry, nor media, nor film lovers.

The Italian directors and stars were perfunctorily introduced at the film-screenings, which created no impact whatsoever.

The introductions were done in two languages – Italian and Thai. Technically this is right, but in actuality, a lot of the film audiences in Bangkok are English-speaking foreigners, who missed out totally on this verbal interaction, which is very important to any cultural festival.

One learns that the festival will come back to Bangkok, next year, with the same combination of cinema and couture.

In fact, the couture-house Gattinoni, one of the few who were communicative, informed that the fashion exhibition next year would include the specially-created clothes for Her Majesty the Queen Sirikit, when she had attended their fashion show during an official visit to Italy in 1956.

While this definitely would interest Thai fashionistas, one also hopes that the Moviemov festival will learn a few lessons from this year’s event.

If the organizers and film delegations do not interact with the film community of the city, then, the festival loses out on its core purpose.

Hopefully, the Italian Embassy in Bangkok will play a stronger role next year and set right the communication problems. Otherwise celebrating 150 years of friendship between the two countries remains a mere verbal celebration.

From the Rome Film Festival delegation’s point of view, however, they made one more clever move.

Even if they did not communicate with the media or moviephiles, they got in touch with local production houses, in order to try and acquire Thai films for their festival in October. The Rome Film Festival has never had a strong Thai segment, unlike the Udine Far East Film Festival, except for occasional visitors like Ekachai Uekrongtham .

Ekachai, in fact, served on a jury at the Moviemov festival to judge the “Italian film which represents its country the most.”

In keeping with the communication gap of the festival, one never got to know which film won this honor!

In the same vein, there was a tribute to Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, with two films, Last Life in the Universe and Ploy, added to the Italian package. There was no connection between them and Italy, except the obvious one of celebrating 150 years of friendship between the two countries. It would have made more sense to have a discussion between the Thai director and an Italian one, but that did not happen.

The Moviemov Italian Film Festival moves to Manila later this year and to Mumbai next year.

1 comment:

  1. Inviting students to screenings did more than contribute to full houses. In fact, some screenings were entirely block-booked for students, so any regular attendee who turned up would be turned away. Of course, these were not advertised as 'student screenings'. Only after the organisers - evidently surprised that the public would turn up and want tickets - negotiated with the school to release 20 more tickets could the public attend the Monicelli screenings. Also, for Big Deal On Madonna Street, most people around me walked out because of the long technical delay - the film started an hour late.


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