With Thai celebrities, loud music and laser beams, the first Phuket Film Festival injected star-studded pizzazz to the island resort struck by a tsunami three years ago. But colors and enthusiasm aside, the ambition of upgrading this small, locally flavored fest into an international event will need a lot of hard work.

The fest, which began Saturday and ends Oct. 27, was privately funded by the newly unveiled SF Cinema City and Jungceylong Shopping Complex in Patong, the popular Phuket beach dotted with posh hotels and gaudy nightlife venues.

Apparently the festival was intended as promotional fanfare for the official opening of SF Cinema.

“However, we intend to make it an annual event,” said SF’s managing director Suwit Thongrompo. “Phuket is a perfect place to have a film festival and we hope to have support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand next year to expand the scope of it. We dare not compare to, say, Pusan, but we do have the intention to make it grow.”

Observers agree Phuket has the potential to host a key event because of its lively atmosphere and the availability of cinema facilities.

The fest screens 40 films, but three-quarters of them are being shown on either DVDs or videotapes, with quality leaving much to be desired. Only the six Thai movies, plus the closing film “Across the Universe” and the soon-to-be released “Surf’s Up,” are projected on 35mm.

The opening gala saw a caravan of Thai movie stars dispatched by big studios. Royal helmer Chatreechalerm Yukol attended the gala along with actors from the “King Naresuan” movies. After an overlong opening ceremony held under a giant canopy in the vast square of Jungceylon, the fest screened the opening film, Spanish comedy “Dance Machine,” on videotape with only half of the theater filled.

“We go for family-oriented movies, we want to make this a people’s festival,” said programmer Scott Rosenberg. “We stay away from heavy art films or horror. After all this is a place that’s still recovering from the bad thing that happened.”

The fest costs SF and Jungceylon, which is located one block inland, 15 million baht ($450,000).

“No doubt this is a very nice place to have a film festival, but it’s still not a complete film festival; right now it has no industry elements and international outlook,” said veteran publicist Prisana Ratanakuakoon. “Also, we’ll have to see whether the local audience, even the expats, will supply the energy to keep the event going.”