Bangkok fest opens with 'Glory'

Complaints about 'Persepolis' lead to last-minute move

"Children of Glory," about the bloodiest water polo match in history, will open the fifth annual Bangkok International Film Festival, organizers said Thursday, replacing a cartoon about Iran's Islamic revolution that was withdrawn after the Iranian embassy here complained.

The opening-film swap is the latest in a string of last-minute moves by the festival's new organizers, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, to try to salvage a cash-strapped event in a tense, post-coup climate.

"Persepolis," the animated winner of the jury prize at May's Festival de Cannes, was dropped as the festival opener last week after organizers heeded the embassy's request.

The military government that took over majority-Buddhist Thailand in a coup last September inherited a Muslim insurgency in the country's southernmost province that has seen more than 2,300 people killed since January 2004.

"Given the ways of the terror world, I think it's understandable to be cautious," a source close to the film festival said about the decision to drop the film by French directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. "Thailand still has a real problem in the South."

Fueling discussion of censorship and film ratings at the festival will be the Film Act, approved last week by the Thai cabinet. If endorsed by parliament, it will institute Thailand's first film ratings, even as a committee composed of mostly government officials retains the right to cut or ban films outright.

An opposition group called the Free Thai Cinema Movement said a film rating system should do away with the need for censorship.

The festival's replacement opening film, directed by Krisztina Goda, details the infamous Hungary vs. Russia water polo war at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, just as the anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution unfolded.

It, too, could prove an interesting choice for a festival that was postponed from its original date in January when the post-coup climate of media crackdown and disorganization found the Tourism Authority of Thailand working with a slashed budget.

The festival budget dropped to about $2 million when it chose to pay Los Angeles-based Film Festival Management Inc. $500,000 for work the firm did toward the event that was canceled in January, TAT director of international public relations Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya said.

Because of budget constraints, fewer than half the 100 movies and 30 shorts due to screen will have Thai subtitles, despite organizers' hope of avoiding a repeat of last year's complaints from local moviegoers.

"We want to put on a classy event without money going to waste," Na Ayudhya said. "We're trying to make good use of every baht we have."

International juries will judge a regional film competition, give awards for international short films and award the festival's best international film the Golden Kinnaree, a statuette of the graceful half-woman, half-bird figure from Thai mythology. Last year, "Water," by Indian director Deepa Mehta, took home the trophy.

The festival will close July 29 with the Thai kickboxing film "Muay Thai Chaiya," directed by Kongkiat Khonsiri and produced by Bangkok-based Five Star Production.
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