Thailand International Film Destination Festival Wrap Up
The films selected for the festival were based on the single qualification that they were approved for shooting by the Thailand Film Office and displayed the range of locations and production capabilities of Thailand. As a showcase for Thailand this was effective; as a program of films, it must be said that the quality was variable. There were a few new films of note.
First up was Roy Alfred Jr's Glory Days. The film depicts the adventures in Thailand of the former members of the Spiders, a Gen X rock band fondly remembered for their heroic levels of excessive hedonism and a one hit wonder. In the twenty years since their break-up, life has dealt hammer blows a plenty to the aging rockers. Then a reality TV show discovers the band, and cooks up a scheme to 'reunite' them so that the world can laugh their faces off at the now pathetic ex-rock stars.
Fired up with the promise of some decent dollars, the ex-Spiders drag their sagging libidos, train-wreck lives and smouldering resentment for each other to Thailand to work some new material. It is no surprise that Thailand lights a fire under their sorry asses and the boys enthusiastically set about re-acquiring their party spirit and, more importantly, their mojo.
At this point the film could have gone wrong in so, so, so many ways but director Roy Alfred Jr. jettisons the tired shackles of the Mock Doc set up and goes all in on an ensemble piece as his characters struggle with their failures and the glimmer of hope of a revival. With insightful dialogue, irreverent disregard for anything resembling political correctness and playing big to the heart strings, director Alfred stays (just), on the right side of sentimental.
The star of the film is the city of Pattaya, complete with its neon-lit streets, gogo bars, bikini clad dancers, and enough prostitutes to satisfy the appetites of a legion of aging rockers. This love-letter to Thailand's hedonism might certainly attract single male tourists to the country, but female members of the audience, maybe not so much. Glory Days has enough heart and humour to take its rightful place in the pantheon of a sub genre so rightly invented and ruled by Spinal Tap.
The festival was also treated to sneak preview of Secret Sharer, the directorial debut of Peter Fudakowski, who won an Oscar as producer of the 2005 film Tsotsi.
Based on Joseph Conrad's novel of the same name, the film updates the story to a rusty tub as Konrad, played by Jack Laskey, is charged with scuttling the ship for an insurance scam. The long-term Chinese crew are determined to outwit him and save their ship. Things get complicated when the captain pulls a mysterious naked girl (played by rising Chinese star Zhu Zhu) from the sea and hides her in his cabin. The film, in its current state, seems to sit in a tricky area between art house and mainstream commercial cinema. It will be interesting to see what critics make of it when the film hits the festival circuit later in this year.
The other film of note was the sneak preview / work in progress of Trafficker. The film follows the plight of two Vietnamese brothers from their rescue as boat children, to the mean streets, 15 years later, in Sydney where the drug trade rips apart the bond between them. The producers of the film are still tinkering with it so a review will have to wait.
This is the first film directed by Larry Smith, whose long and illustrious association with Stanley Kubrick led him up the lighting department ladder to a successful career as a cinematographer, with Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut and on three films with director Nicolas Winding Refn.
Smith also appeared with the Thai cast and crew for a screening of the latest film he worked on with Refn, Only God Forgives, which baffled and frustrated some audience members, whilst delighting others, much as it did in festivals around the world last year.
A surprise hit of the festival was the film Bhaag Milka Bhaag, a sort of Indian Chariots of Fire. Whilst the characters seemed at times to be struggling to resist the temptation to break out into a full-on musical number, it hit all the right emotional notes, and clearly had the audience rooting for its athletic hero. The day after the screening, the film swept the board at the Florida IIFA awards.
Out of Inferno, the 3d Hong Kong version of Towering Inferno was short on characterisation, but high on whooshy visual and sound effects - perhaps the closest a cinema audience has ever been to feeling the thrill of being about to die in a horrific fire - if that's your thing.
The most bizarre film of the festival was The Mark: Redemption, a 'faith-based' film set in Bangkok just after the rapture, when sections of the population have disappeared leaving the world in chaos. It is the second film in a series, which I haven't seen. The director was present and explained that he wanted to make a film which worked as both a film for Christian audiences and as a commercial action film. The Thai Buddhist audience might have been excused for not understanding the Biblical references, but the complex plot involving microchips, political summits, and kidnappings was so utterly confused that neither I nor anyone I met had any idea what was going on at any time in the film.
Welcome retro screenings of The Killing Fields and Good Morning Vietnam rounded out the program. Unfortunately the quality of these classic films presented a reference by which one could judge the contemporary films in the festival, and sadly none could compare.
A sidebar event saw international location manager Chris Baugh (Argo, Transcendence, Angels and Demons) give a hugely insightful talk about the unsung and nerve shredding role of location manager.
Geoff Boyle also took part in an excellent Evening of Cinematography at the local Friese-Greene cinema club where he discussed the 'digital revolution', camera snobbery, and his famous feud with Red founder Jim Jannard.
The other part of the festivities, The Amazing Thailand Film Challenge was an extraordinary event: 112 film students and 16 professional film-makers were given a plane ticket, a thousand dollars, and a local PA, before being whisked off somewhere in Thailand. Seven days later each student submitted a completed 7 minute film, the winners taking home prizes of up to $10k, given at an extravagant awards ceremony complete with elaborately-costumed shows, dancers, and a plethora of attractive Thai stars, interrupted only by a parade of mysterious politicians reading lengthy Thai-language speeches in a dour tone of voice that would not have been out of place in the Hague.
Strangely, having spent what must have been a considerable budget on bringing these students to Thailand and supporting them in this worthy endeavour, only ten second clips of the films were shown, and there were no public screenings of any of the films.
Once again, whilst it was all very slick and impressive, one could not help wondering what was the point of it all - to showcase Thailand to Thai audiences, to give speeches in Thai welcoming international film-makers, and making 64 short films which no-one saw.
Nevertheless, the Amazing Thailand Film Challenge presented an extraordinary opportunity to its participants.
Any ScreenAnarchy reader planning on being in film school (or media studies) next year, should keep a beady eye, early next March, for news of a 3rd festival. Mark it on your calendar. On the choppy, cruel seas of the professional world (not) awaiting you, this competition would be an awesome start to your brilliant career.
Since the demise of the Bangkok International Film Festival after the much-publicised US jail convictions of the organisers on corruption charges, the Thailand International Film Destination Festival is now the biggest film festival in Thailand. Only in its second year, it was well-organised, and the cinema venue is ideal. Areas that need improvement include the ticketing policy which reserved large portions of each screening to non existence VIPs. This meant that many films 'sold out' while the cinema was less than half full.
However, Thai hospitality is legendary. Rather than the films themselves, it was perhaps the armies of cheery student volunteers, fleets of vans, and nightly parties with excellent Thai food that perhaps showed best what Thailand has to offer.
With the audiences at the flagship Siam Paragon theatre comprising primarily members of the Thai public and international film-makers whose films were in the festival, one wonders whether the festival can succeed in its stated aim to attract films to Thailand. Surely the target audience should be the producers, financiers, location managers and studios who have not been to Thailand, and whose presence was certainly not in evidence at the festival screenings.