The city don't know that the city is getting
During this amazing week in Thailand, I've mixed family commitments and quality vacation time with the pull of the Bangkok International Film Festival. The prospect of spending all day, every day in the decidedly upscale confines of a movie theatre (when there is so much else to see and do in this remarkable country) was somewhat depressing.
Clean and dry inside Central World
The sterility and international flavor of the shops at Central World (Starbucks, Aldo, Esprit, Giordano, Gues, CalvinKlein, Adidas, Puma, Nike, Dolce and Gabana, Levis, Rolex, etc etc.) give the venue a sense of anonymity. You could be anywhere....Iceland... or the Philippines... or Hastings... or... or this place.
However, it is the rainy season in Southeast Asia, which means that just about everyday, the skies open with a fury, unleashing torrents of water.
Rainy Day Window #12 and #35
Going to the Festival also proved a welcome destination--and more often than not, delivered a worthy line-up of features.
The luxurious multi-floor SFWorld Theatres featured state of the art presentation, as well as handsome amenities like premium deluxe recliner seating.
WIth 16 Magnificent screens, the options range from confortable stadium seating theatres to super-deluxe screens (for a premium price) with love seats and waiter service. (None of the festival screenings were held in the superdeluxe theatres, but the back row of each screen includes a row of recliners, available for a higher price.)
The lobby of the Theatre--16 Magnificent Screens!
The lobby was always bustling, with the feeling of Times Square. Massive wrap around displays ran movie trailers (Hairspray, No Vacancy, Ratatouile, the Death Proof--released internaitonally as a stand alone--and a Thai comedy about a crossdresser on the lam paired with a tough-as-nails, no nonsense cop.)
International blockbusters like Harry Potter and Die Hard 4.0 played in the non-festival screens--yet there was a palpable energy for the film festival. Patrons flocked to large festival displays to read about more obscure festival selections.
The big board
The multi-level venue sports an expansive, lobby--and a modern tower at the center that looks like something out of Star Trek:
On the second story there's a fancy restaurant...
And a bar...
Folks lined-up in in the Enterprise-like hallway before screenings:
Kids in the Hall
And exit down neon lighted corridors afterwards
The Festival--the Bad
A few complaints about the festival first--and these come from someone who regluarly attends festival. I believe a casual film-goer would not be nearly as perturbed as I was about these issues.
1) Every screening at the BKK Film Festival began with the standard SFWorld Theatres trailer package. While this in an of itself is hardly a crime, fest vetarans can imagine how tedious this became when watching two, three or four films in a day. 20+ minutes of advertisments and coming attractions (the same package that screened at nauseum in the main floor of the lobby) at every show grew very old, very quickly.
One note that I found rather charming however, is that every show also began with a tribute to the King, for which all patrons are asked to stand.
For future festivals, organizers should put a tight leash on the venue, and limit the pre-show package to the essential policy trailers, the festival sponsor trailer, the tribute to the king, and then on with the show.
2) The set-up for press and industry left much to be desired. Festival organizers issued a pass-book good for tickets to all shows. However, they designated one row of seats for each screening. Pass holders were reqired to secure the tickets a day in advance. This meant that unless you arived first thing in the morning, the day before your show, to secure your ticket for the next day, you were box out. Every single avance ticket was gone by the day of show. Your pass could not get you into any shows unless you had an advance ticket-- even when there were other seats available. What happened however, is that some folks took tickets for shows a day in advance, then changes their minds. However, once the ticket was out of the system, the seat was gone, and an eager passholder otherwise boxed out.
(This could be remedied by purchasing a ticket--but the solution seems contrary to the notion of issuing passes in the first place. Further, the issue could also have been remedied with a standby pass solution that would have allowed passholders into available seats--which are all pre-assinged at the Point of Sale--at showtime. Heck, they could hold off until 20 minutes after showtime, and save us the monotony of sitting through the trailer package, yet again.)
3) I was disappointed by festival programmer's decision to cluster all the competition screenings into the middle of the week. There are no competition screenings during the first four days of the festival, when I had the most time. As such, I feel like I took some chances on films I might not have bothered with.
The Festival--the Tributes
The line-up for the BKK FIlm Festival boased a few retrospectives and tributes worthy of note:
1) Ray Harryhauen
At the closing ceremony on Saturday, an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Ray Harryhausen. The award was accepted by Gary Dartnall on behalf of Ray, who recently suffered an accident and was unable to attend the festival.
2) Hema Malini
A showcase of films featuring Bollywood superstar Hema Malini, including films like 1971s Lal Patther and 2003's Baghban clocking in at 141 minutes and 171 minutes respectively.
Press conference for legendary Indian actress Hema Malini
3) Luis Buñuel
Festival programmers also served up a retrospective of works by Luis Buñuel including The Milky Way, The Obscure Object of Desire and Belle de Jour paired with Un Chien Andalou.
The Milky Way
I made a point to check out The Milky Way. I was curious to see how the film would go over and keen to see whether there was any interest in the most obscure title in the Bunuel retrospective. I also wanted to see the film for selfish reasons--because I hadn't seen it before.
The experience was decidedly surreal. Not only was it jarring to watch a film such as this inside a commercial multiplex, but it was doubly weird seeing Buñuel's irreverent anti-Catholic treatise amongst an international audience in a Buddhist country.
The film screened twice at the festival--and the show I attended was about a quarter full, which I saw as healthy interest in the film. Most of the crowd seemed to be younger, college-aged Thais, and I imagined them to be cinema devotees and film students.
I was struck by the cheeky humor and light touch Buñuel exhibits throughout the film. The episodic narrative which follows two itinerant pilgrims on a trek to Santiago de Compostela , the narative is riddled with humorous often absurd antictdotes and digressions--all aimed at toppling, or poking fun at Catholic Dogma. At the end of one sequence, a priest who had been holding court at an inn, is hauled off in a straightjacket by sanitarium workers. In another, the pope faces a firing squad.
The fillm, with its anarchic, irreverant episodic structure, could well have influenced Monty Python. There is also little doubt that it informed and paved the way for Kevin Smith's Dogma.
4) All Time Classics
The festival program also included an illustrious line-up of Cinema Classics--films like Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, and Citizen Kane-but there was no evidence that the films were anywhere on the line-up. According to a festival representative at the press area, festival organizers ran into difficulties--because they were forbidden from "plattering" the prints (standard pratice at multi-pllex theatres, and just about any venue other than a musem or specialy screen.) He assured me that they had come to a resolution, and that the films would be screening in Bangkok in the coming weeks... I imagiune the film students and cineastes who so enjoyed the Buñuel retrospective will have a field day.