Bangkok festival’s future uncertain

Crises may scare backers off after 2007

When: July 19-29
Where: Bangkok
Web: Bangkokfilm.org

Struggling through rumor, uncertainty, postponements, crises of confidence and changes of staff, the Bangkok Intl. Film Festival has survived its own nightmare and will open this month.

It also managed to avoid fueling any kind of political controversy — which it didn’t need — by dropping its original opening-night film, the Cannes prizewinning animated movie “Persepolis,” after a request from the Iranian Embassy in Bangkok in late June.

Hungarian hit “Children of Glory,” produced by native son-turned-Hollywood heavyweight Andy Vajna and co-written by another native who has done well in America, Joe Eszterhas, pic is also politically charged — it turns on the bloody Soviet putdown of Hungary in 1956 — but the subject of communist domination of Eastern Europe is less of a political hot potato today than the effects of the 1979 Iranian revolution on everyday life, with which “Persopolis” deals.

It’s almost a miracle the fest is still happening, but that’s the end of good news: Its future is as dismal as its past, and this year’s edition could be the last, unless a major shake-up takes place in the next six months or so.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has bankrolled the gig, with a budget of $5 million, for the past five years. In the previous four installments, TAT relied on L.A.-based Film Festival Management to supervise the event.

But the fest has always been criticized for overspending, for the absence of Thai subtitles and its predilection for promoting international stars and overlooking Thai talent.

Major changes came last year. In the summer, the TAT canceled the contract with Film Festival Management and localized the operation. This coincided with the arrival of a new TAT governor, Pornsiri Manoharn.

Manoharn axed the budget to $2 million. After much confusion, the original February fest date was moved to July.

The TAT then parted with its two main Thai programmers, who had been instrumental in the Asian selection of the past two years. After more confusion and rumors, the TAT named Kriangsak “Victor” Silakong as chief programmer.

It was a practical though perplexing decision: Silakong is the festival director of Bangkok’s other major fest, October’s World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Meanwhile, TAT’s chief operations officer, Chattan Kunjura Na Ayutthaya, says, “We’re determined to put together a respectable festival.”

Indeed, bizzers were reassured in early July that the Bangkok Film Market is on course to take place July 23-25. Officials said that all 96 booths had been taken.

The mart, which runs as a sidebar to the fest, had been under a cloud caused by the TAT’s budget cuts and management changes.

Kunjara Na Ayutthaya is honest when discussing the event’s outlook. “There’s no guarantee that the TAT will host the fest next year,” he says. “We’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps a tourism board is not the perfect organizer of a film festival. The government may reassess the scenario, and maybe other agencies will come in to take care of the event.”

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