Welcome news as a revamped Bangkok International Film Festival is confirmed for September
Speculation and rumours have run wild over the past 12 months, but it has recently been confirmed that the Bangkok International Film Festival (BKK IFF) will take place this year from Sept 23-30, with several changes in the organisation, programming, and focus.
All will be praying the changes will be for the better. The major shake-up involves the managerial structure: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will continue to sponsor the festival, though with a severely slashed budget, but the Federation of National Film Association of Thailand (FNFAT) and the Thai Film Directors' Association will take over the operation, programming and publicity. In short, the TAT will take a back seat and let the industry people, through FNFAT and the directors' association, handle the country's biggest, and most historically troubled, movie event.
FNFAT chairman, Jaruek Kanjaruek, who's also the head of Kantana Group, will serve as BKK IFF festival president. Youngyooth Thongkonthun, president of the directors' association, will be the artistic director. The actual film selection will be carried out by Pimpaka Towira, who headed the Bangkok Film Festival in 2000, when The Nation was still the host.
The crucial overhaul of BKK IFF has seemed inevitable since the bribery scandal that broke last December, when the FBI arrested executives of Film Festival Management Inc, the LA-based firm contracted by the TAT to run the cinefest from 2003-2006. Gerald and Patricia Green were charged for allegedly paying a high-ranking Thai government official a kickback of 53.4 million baht in order to secure the deal for BKK IFF.
In March, the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) confirmed that there were grounds for prosecution against Juthamas Siriwan, former governor of the TAT, over her alleged collusion with the US company. The DSI has submitted the case to the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) to take legal action, but there has been no recent development.
During the years when the Bangkok festival was run by the American team - though the actual day-to-day operations were still largely conducted by Thais - the budget was as high as 180 million baht. Last year, the new TAT governor cancelled the contract with the US firm and let a Thai team, led by Kriangsak Silakong, manage the event. The budget was cut to around 80 million baht.
This year, the BKK IFF will operate on 20 million baht rolled out by the TAT, though the FNFAT will try to raise additional funds from other sponsors.
In a move to add more relevance to the Thai film industry, this year's BKK IFF will overlap with the newly introduced Thailand Entertainment Expo 2008, hosted by Department of Export Promotion from Sept 24-28. This trade fair is believed to be modelled after the successful Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, a regional showcase of movies, music, animation and computer games.
Thailand Entertainment Expo will take place at Bitec on Bang Na, whereas the BKK IFF will happen at SF Cinema at CentralWorld.
Chief programmer Pimpaka Towira says the festival will screen around 80 films. There will be two basic competition sections: international and Southeast Asian. "There will also be a Thai Panorama section to allow international viewers and journalists to catch up with the Thai film scene of the past 12 months," says Pimpaka. "We'll try to put an emphasis on Asian content," adds Youngyooth, the artistic director.
The new team admit that their task is doubly challenging given the time constraints and the poor image of the BKK IFF left by their predecessors. Their focus will be to convince local and international people that this is an event dedicated to cinema and to audience participation, and not necessarily about the glitz and glamour.