'Buddha' film has a higher calling

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CANNES -- In the capitalist hustle of the Marche du Film at Cannes, MonoFilm of Thailand is doing a calm and spiritual dance, distributing "The Life of Buddha" and donating the profits from the animated feature to charity.

Produced by Wallapa Pimthong, the film, which was made for $5 million, sold Monday to Italy's Dujass Film S.P.A., according to Rachel Prapeimporn Jamawatr, MonoFilm international relations supervisor.

"We were surprised in the interest because the film is not only animated but about a religion," Jamawatr said. "We thought there would be a limited audience."

Tracing the life of the 6th century prince Siddhartha -- who renounced his royal life on the border of Nepal and India to seek the meaning of life -- the film is in postproduction in Thailand.

Dujass and Thai production company Media Standard Ltd. are negotiating who will cover the cost of dubbing and subtitling the 150-minute Thai language film into Italian, Jamawatr said.

Animated partly by a Thai artist with experience working with the Walt Disney Co, the proceeds will be donated to the foundation to help the poor that was founded by Thailand's monarch King Bhumibol, Jamawatr said.

Led by Thai conglomerate Mono Group CEO Dr. Soraj Asavaprapha, MonoFilm aims to release "Buddha" on Dec. 5 for the Buddhist king's 80th birthday.

"We are not proselytizing, just helping to tell an amazing story," said Bannasit Rakwong, MonoFilm deputy managing director.

Pimthong, who put up about half the budget herself, is a scholar at Thailand's Mahachulalongkoi University, founded in 1867 to give Buddhist monks a higher education. One of Thailand's top schools, the university was made a public institution in 1997.
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