Behind the scenes dramaA few hassles bug the upcoming Bangkok International Film Festival while the question of relevance still lingers
Those who've kept their noses close to the kitchen know that the movie buffet known as the Bangkok International Film Festival 2006 (BKK IFF) has been nagged by a few foul smells. The most pungent of all is the announcement by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand (FNFAT, or known endearingly to insiders as samapan pappayon) to boycott the event by withdrawing Thai movies from the line-up. Plot-twisting complications ensued when three Thai studios, in a defiant gesture, resigned from the membership of samapan and directly submitted their films to the festival, which is, as usual, being hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
And if we keep following the smell, we'll encounter a catalogue of old arguments against the BKK IFF's cultural relevance, its actual, long-term benefits to Thai audiences, and the TAT's decision to continue hiring an American team to programme and manage the event instead of trying to build our own house by our own labour, at a cheaper price.
These questions are worth asking precisely because the whole glittering affair is sponsored by the state coffers, aka our tax money. Just like when the public express concerns over the construction of the new airport, or a new bridge, or a new road sign, we have the right to comment on an "entertainment" project like the BKK IFF, whose 200 to 300 million baht budget (depending which report you believe) is bankrolled by the government's money.
The samapan saga is the latest symptom of the confusing, even rocky relationship between the state and the commercial film industry, as well as between the state and the local audience of a cultural event such as this. It is widely known among observers that one of the reasons FNFAT spurned the BKK IFF was because the TAT has cut back the financial support usually given to the organisation. Meanwhile the organisers, who I believe always try hard, have yet to find a way to make the BKK IFF more meaningful to the cultural environment of the city. We've always had the spectacle, but the question of substance still lingers.
What's happening with the BKK IFF, which begins next Friday, emphasises the need for a clear cultural policy. Do we really need a film festival? Can we survive without one? If no, then what purpose should a Bangkok film festival serve to the public, the filmmaking community, the tourism industry?
If we believe a cinefest is worth an investment, who should be responsible for organising it? Should we have a central body to harmonise the different interests among different parties in the film industry? Should the fest care more about non-Sukhumvit crowds and include Thai subtitles? Should we have more Thai film programmers since they are able to respond to the sensibilities of the local film-going scene better? Should we try to run the whole thing by ourselves? Should the lowly Thai staff, who work their butts off making sure that the event runs smoothly so the important people won't lose face, get more credit?
A fan is always the one who's most critical; and I believe I've always been a supporter of the BKK IFF. Last year I asked more or less the same questions (surprisingly several foreign media quoted the article, including major art journals like The Village Voice and Cineaste), and I've just repeated myself, again with good faith that we can make something more out of this expensive event.
The BKK IFF this year has the film Good Night, and Good Luck on its list. The film, directed by George Clooney, tells the story of a television newsman in the 1950s who questions the abuse of power by an influential senator. Though our questions are not as vital as those of the movie character, we hope the organisers understand the spirit of that movie (otherwise they wouldn't show it, right?), and allow criticism to exist alongside flattery and blind support.
On the menu
Bangkok International Film Festival 2006, Feb 17-27, at Paragon Cineplex
FILMS AND EVENTS
♦ Opening Film
Invisible Waves: A drama-thriller directed by Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang and starring a Thai, Japanese and Korean cast.
♦ Closing Film
Rent: Chris Columbus's adaptation of the Broadway play concerns a group of struggling bohemians in New York's East Village.
♦ International Competition
Consequences of Love: An ice-cool, Alpine-set drama from Italy.
The House of Sand: A red-hot, desert-set drama from Brazil.
Istanbul Tales: Five short stories are adapted from five famous fairytales with the backdrop of Istanbul.
Mrs Henderson Presents: Stephen Frears directs Judi Dench in this period drama about the owner of London's Windmill Theatre.
The Ring Finger: A strange drama about a woman who cuts off her ring finger and a male curator of personal memories.
River Queen: Samantha Morton plays a white girl who bears a son with a Maori man in colonial-era New Zealand.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: An ultra-violent revenge movie from Korea's golden boy Park Chan-wook.
Transamerica: A drag queen preparing for a sex-change operation meets a son he (or she) never knew existed.
Tsotsi: A South African petty criminal tries to raise a boy he comes across accidentally.
The White Masai: A German girl runs off with a Masai warrior in Kenya and tries to prove that cross-racial love conquers all.
Water: An Indian drama about the predicament of young widows.
Invisible Waves: Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang tells the story of guilt and redemption in a film set in Macau, Hong Kong and Phuket.
♦ Asean Competition
3 Friends: Three female friends, led by Thai actress Napakprapa Nakprasit, frolic about on the beach and marvel at chance encounters.
Ahimsa, Stop to Run: A Thai entry that features a young man who's being shadowed by a Nike-wearing karma.
The Tin Mine: Another Thai entry tells the story about how a zit-free college boy learns his valuable life lessons by toiling in a southern tin mine.
Bride of Silence: From Vietnam, the film follows a man who's searching the turbulent, legendary history of his family.
The Burnt Theatre: Prominent Khmer filmmaker Rithy Panh is back with a documentary about Cambodian performing arts.
Gie: Young director Riri Riza recounts the real-life story of an Indonesian activist from the 1960s.
Goalposts and Lipsticks: This Malaysian teen comedy concerns a college hottie who wants to become a futsal star.
The Gravel Road: The first Tamil-language film to get a wide release in Malaysia depicts the life of a Malaysian-Indian family on their rubber plantation.
Joni's Promise: An Indonesian comedy about the worst day in the history of film delivery.
Journey from the Fall: A Vietnamese man tries to escape from a Communist prison to reunite with his family in America.
Magdalena - The Unholy Saint: A young prayer woman finds that all her prayers are answered by the divine, so her clients want her to pray for more and more miracles.
The Masseur: Another film from the Philippines tells the story of a masseur who returns to his rural home to confront his destiny.
Monday Morning Glory: A satire of the government's anti-terrorist campaign by a Malaysian filmmaker.
Unarmed Combat: A Singaporean comedy about an arm-wrestling competition.
Sombat Metanee, Thailand's screen legend, will have a retrospective of some of his most famous works, like Nak Leng Tewada (The Holy Hoodlum), Tawan Lang Lued (The Blood Sun), Khun Suk (Warlord), Tarutao (The Hell of Tarutao) and Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger).
Tribute to Gene Kelly: Screening of two films by the great American actor, An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain.
♦ Special Presentation
Good Night, and Good Luck: George Clooney's directorial debut depicts the face-off between a TV newsman and a hawkish senator.
Army in the Shadows: Jean-Pierre Melville's classic will be screened with a restored print.
The Constant Gardener: Fernando Meriellies's new movie stars Ralph Fiennes as a diplomat searching for the truth about the gruesome death of his wife in Kenya.
This Angry Age: A 1958 drama starring Anthony Perkins shot in Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom.
♦ Outdoor Screening
West Side Story: The beloved musical from 1961 tells the story of gang rivalry in Manhattan's Upper West Side.
The Man with the Golden Gun: A lot of tourism board people will want to see this James Bond movie for that single chase sequence shot in Phang-Nga Bay. Roger Moore is Bond.
The Seed (Duay Klao): Bandit Rittakol's movie tells the story of Thai farmers and their faith in the wisdom of His Majesty the King.
Gitarajan: The 70- minute documentary, produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary celebration of His Majesty's accession to the throne, portrays His Majesty's talent and great interest in music, including the excellence of his compositions.
♦ Cinematographer's Day
This year's Cinematographer's Day highlights the works of Anthony Dod Mantle. There will be seminars and screenings of two films shot by Mantle, Dear Wendy and Millions.
Dear Wendy is a Danish production that satirises the American gun culture. Millions, about two boys who stumble upon a bag full of banknotes, is directed by British director Danny Boyle
♦ Flown-in stars
As of now, word has it that Catherine Deneuve, Christopher Lee, Willem Dafoe and Hayden Christensen will attend the event.
See www.bangkokfilm.org for more details. Next week 'real.time' will highlight the films to be shown at the festival.