The Bangkok International Film Festival (BIFF), which ended today (Feb 2), still has a long way to go to fulfil its ambitious remit, but this year's event was a spirited affair that promised greater things for future editions.
Organised for the second time by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the festival offered a strong line-up of films - selected by a team headed by former Palm Springs programmer Jennifer Stark - and an expanded programme of industry-related events. These included the first Bangkok Film Market (BFM) and a three-day Thai Film Showcase, designed to promote local films.
But despite the best efforts of organisers, the event was plagued by the cancellation of films, last-minute rescheduling and glitches with the ticketing system. Late shipping and customs clearance were cited as reasons for the cancellations but luckily all the films in the International Competition - including Lost In Translation which had to be rescheduled - finally made it to the screen.
"It was a typical international film festival - there were bumps in the road but that's normal," said BIFF executive director Craig Prater who formerly worked with Stark at Palm Springs. "We saw a lot of improvements this year and were pleased with the audience's reaction to the films. It's great to see the local Thai audience getting excited about international cinema."
Indeed, although ticket sales were slow at the beginning, the 12-day event (Jan 22-Feb 2) picked up steam towards the end with many films playing to packed houses.
TAT has invested heavily in the festival in an attempt to promote Thailand as an efficient and low-cost location to international producers. The event also aims to support Thailand's rapidly expanding local production industry and the launch of a film market highlights its international ambitions.
But the festival faces strong competition from longer-established Asian events - including the Pusan International Film Festival and Hong Kong Filmart - and also takes place at a busy time in the international film industry calendar, clashing with the Sundance and Rotterdam festivals and the Golden Globes. "It's possible that we might look at alternative dates - but there's never a perfect time to have a film festival," Prater said.
Meanwhile, the market, which ran Jan 27-29, drew an impressive array of international sales agents, although in many cases expenses had been covered by TAT and there were not as many distributors as sellers had hoped. "It was worthwhile coming here to meet local producers, but in future years I hope they get more buyers to attend," said Media Luna sales manager Dallas Kruger, summing up the thoughts of many.
Reflecting the growing strength of the Thai industry, several local films attracted interest from distributors and critics during the festival including Sahamongkol's The Overture, about a classical musician, feel-good drama My Girl (Fan Chan) and Nonzee Nimibutr's Baytong.
At the awards presentation on Saturday night, Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions picked up the Golden Kinnaree for best film and Oliver Stone was presented with a Career Achievement Award (see separate story). The closing night film, David Mamet's Spartan, screened on Sunday and the festival ended with the screening of award winners today.