News list 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17!
18 19 20 21 22 23
Last year, at one screening of a film at the Bangkok International Film Festival, a Canadian producer got up to introduce the movie that was about to be shown. The moderator in the theatre was an American woman, so, naturally, they spoke to each other in English _ with no Thai translation. After the brief introduction, the film started. The movie's dialogue, naturally, was in English _ without Thai subtitles. There would be another brief discussion after the screening, but I didn't stay, because I knew there wouldn't be a Thai translator present, and I was increasingly taken aback that a Bangkok film festival could be so oblivious to its context.
That particular screening might have been a glitch _ a personnel mismanagement that shouldn't be generalised. But incidentally, that all-English procession did serve as a metaphor for the way the BKK IFF is being run, and more questions are arising concerning the real benefits the event will bring to the progress of the local film industry _ and to the local film audience, most of whom are not fluent in English. Cross-cultural exchange should be an aim of every movie fest, and the organisers should have ensured that no barriers prevent that from happening.
This year, the 180 films to be shown in the festival, which runs from Jan 13-24, will again include no Thai subtitles. Despite the overstatement by some officials that the BKK IFF has overtaken Korea's Pusan Film Fest as the top Asian cinema event, Pusan shows every film with English and Korean subtitles. Local subs are also a standard feature _ some ordained by law _ for cinefests in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, France, as well as other countries.
What's more, the cost of producing subtitles for each movie is, at maximum, 40,000 baht. With 100 or so movies (not counting Thai movies) it'd take the organisers altogether four million baht. The BKK IFF reportedly has a budget of close to 200 million baht, with a lot of that going into conjuring up the pomp and circumstance of the parties. So why can't they spend just two percent of the budget on a factor that will immensely broaden the audience base; that will definitely encourage young people, especially film students who're not comfortable with English, to watch all the good movies they've brought here; and that will show how this festival is genuinely relevant to the local people whose tax money sponsors the event.
The lack of Thai subs is just one of the issues. True, nobody can deny that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), who hired an American firm to programme the fest, has done a good job of bringing quality movies to Bangkok, and this year's increase of Southeast Asian titles is especially welcome. But the host's priority in handcuffing film to tourism, while valid in itself, comes at the expense of substantial, long-term developments of the film culture and of the festival itself.
Every significant film fest in the world is a result of the collective energy from the local film community, usually with the support of the government. To spend a lot of money to buy the expertise of a foreign company to organise a local artistic event is permissible but awkward; and even if we grant it the benefit of the doubt, such practice comes at the price of losing touch with the local film sensibilities _ it's possible, yes, but so strange that a Bangkok Film Fest should have an office in LA.
When I visit foreign film festivals (Rotterdam, Cannes, Berlin, Venice) I usually recognise a Korean rep who's in charge of the Pusan festival, a Japanese acquaintance who represents the Tokyo FilmEx, an Indonesian lady from the Jakarta Film Fest, a Dutch programmer from the Rotterdam festival, and so on. A film festival is supposed to represent its host country _ so why can't we just groom someone to be the face of our own BKK IFF and pave the path for its long-term direction? (And yes, we have a lot of eligible someones who can do that).
It has been announced that the BKK IFF 2005 will give a career achievement award to American director Joel Schumacher (as well as to our late cinema veteran Kunawut). But what came as a shock to all observers is the fact the festival, which has laboured so much effort in honouring this American filmmaker, doesn't even care to include the most important Thai movie of the year, Sud Pralad (Tropical Malady), the first local production to bag a major award from Cannes, in its screening programme.
That negligence leaves a big question mark. The responsibility of selecting Thai films of the past year for the festival belongs to the Federation of Thai Film Producers, which, for some arcane reasons, does not represent every single Thai filmmaker. But if the organisers intend to make BKK IFF the showcase of recent Thai cinema to foreign visitors, somebody should make sure that Sud Pralad is part of it _ simply because this is the most well-known Thai movie among international arthouse audience in 2004.
I'm aware that tourism is important to the country _ perhaps more than ever. And I'm aware that a glamourous film festival can boost the country's image (if it's genuinely glamourous, not just wannabe-glamourous). The question is _ should we be proud of spending a lot of money to fly in C-grade stars for photo ops so that we can tell the world we're having a great film fest? Or should we be proud, like Korea and Japan are, when we see the government use the taxpayers' money wisely to develop a strong film industry, which will result in a strong film festival, and in turn lead people to actively want to join our event?
I sincerely ask these questions because I wish to see a Bangkok Film Festival that matters _ to the world, of course, but especially to our audience and our filmmakers.