Sun, 02 Feb 2003

Bangkok Film Festival not quite Cannes

Kenny Santana, Contributor, Bangkok

It is glitzy, glamorous and has the ambition to be the Cannes of Asia.

Although to achieve the latter the organizer has still to put in a lot of effort, the recent Bangkok Film Festival had quite a kick, with the variety of films and the presence of Hollywood stars.

Held for the first time ever in the country, the 12-day festival started on Jan. 10 and drew attention of local and international moviegoers and media.

But the hype began a week later, as the Hollywood stars poured in to the opening ceremony at the grand Scala Movie Theater at Siam Square.

There were the likes of Jennifer Tilly, Rick Yune, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Vivica A. Fox. Asian stars, however, proved to be as popular as they, if not more so.

Fans screamed hysterically as top Hong Kong actor/singer Leon Lai and Christy Chung passed along the red carpet. Chung most likely became a household name in Thailand because of her much-talked-about nudity in Thai movie Jan Dara, which also screened at the festival.

Nevertheless, despite the big names and hysteria, many questioned the choice of stars as many did not even have their movies screened at the event.

Their presence, however, was clearly aimed at bringing the world's attention to the country, especially to its film industry.

In the event, which was fully supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, some 20 local films were shown, including the critically acclaimed Mekong Full Moon Party (2002) and also Blissfully Yours (2002). The latter will never find its way to commercial cinemas due to its explicit sex scenes.

The festival also presented Thai animation as well as Thai short films made by young independent filmmakers.

With a total of over 100 films shown in the festival, including Indonesia's Pasir Berbisik (Whispering Sands), the committee ambitiously admitted that BKKIFF would like to emulate the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

"It's not that we dare to say we want to be like Cannes but in terms of the wide range of world movies, that's what Cannes always does and what we have tried to do. The difference is we'll always have our own Asian personality," executive director of the festival Patrick de Bokay told the media conference.

There was indeed a broad variety of films, presented in several themes, such as "Masters to Present". The "Masters" included the 1963 movie 8 1/2 from Italian maestro Federico Fellini and French director Francois Truffaut's 1983 Confidentially Yours. Current offerings included Francois Ozon's 8 Women (2002) and Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American (2002).

Most notably, this festival also marked the world premiere of French movie Fureur (2003) and the Asian premiere of Salma Hayek's vehicle movie, Frida (2002).

Filmmakers and stars of Fureur were in Bangkok to attend the premiere and so was Hong Kong noted filmmaker Fruit Chan, who brought with him his much-praised movie, Public Toilet (2002).

Taking place in downtown Bangkok, moviegoers could see the screened films at four cinemas: Major Cineplex, SF Cinema, Apex, and EGV Cinema. They were all accessible by sky train, taking only five minutes from one cinema to another.

The movies were great but the journey to watch them was even more fun.

The festival also included workshops and concerts, such as a joint concert between Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) and the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

Workshop topics included digital cinema and film financing. There was also a celebrity golf tournament attended by two members of American boyband 'N Sync, Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick.

The event concluded with an awards presentation, the Golden Kinaree awards. The prize were given to Talk to Her (Best Film and Director), The Man Without a Past (Best Screenplay and Actress), with Best Actor for Michael Caine for his performance in The Quiet American.

Seven jurists, such as Trois Continent Film Festival Director Alain Jalladeau and Hollywood film producer Andrew Vajna, were there to choose the best from twelve previously selected movies.

Despite the good things, there were some flaws that gave audiences cause for complaint. One major issue was tickets.

It was very difficult to get a ticket for hot movies, such as Takeshi Kitano's Dolls (2002), Pedro Almodovar's Golden Globe Winner Talk to Her (2002) and crowd-pleaser Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).

True, tickets are a common problem at film festivals, but would-be members of the audience became annoyed because they found that seats said to be fully booked were not 100 percent full inside.

De Bokay said it was because the seats were bought by VIPs who didn't show up at the movies. But it just happened too many times.

There were also some cancellations and schedule changes. On the first few days, the audiences even had to watch Talk to Her without English subtitles. Luckily the committee managed to obtain the right reel for screening a few days later.

An amateur filmmaker from the Netherlands criticized the event as "a good film festival, but lacking interaction between filmmakers and audiences."

Some people sent letters of complaint to local newspapers, saying that the festival was a government circus, all red carpets and much media coverage but lacking passion for the movies themselves.

However, after 12 days of glitz, glamor and criticism, Bangkok has proven to be a respectable host international film festival. Despite the flaws, remember this was only a beginning.