Bangkok film fest off to a rocky start

Jury member goes off campus; film ban stirs controversy

BANGKOK -- The Bangkok International Film Festival's sixth edition kicked off Friday with some officials seeing red, and it had nothing to do with the carpet.

An organizer who asked to remain anonymous expressed annoyance that one of the festival's international judges, Singapore director Eric Khoo, had bolted already, choosing to watch the competition films on DVD instead.

It wasn't readily apparent why Khoo, helmer of Singapore's foreign-language Oscar entry "My Magic," left just as the festival was officially getting under way.

Despite Khoo's absence, the jury snafu failed to dampen opening-night ceremonies, which featured a screening of Thai action-fantasy "Queens of Langkasuka" from director Nonzee Nimibutr.

Industry notables walking the red carpet included veteran director-producer Roger Corman, Hong Kong helmer Andrew Lau ("Infernal Affairs"), U.K. film producer Iain Smith ("Wanted"), the Weinstein Co.'s vp Asian acquisitions Bey Logan and Jean Claude Van Damme, whose latest film, self-parody "JCVD," was recently added to the lineup.

This year's festival -- which soft-launched earlier in the week with Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" -- will cost about $2 million to stage. About half the budget came from the government and the rest from sponsors, including Toyota, Sony and Fujifilm. Just under 80 films will unspool.

Festival organizers said they were happy with how things were proceeding, noting that all three screenings of "Vicky Cristina" had sold out, along with those for Swedish film "Let the Right One In" by Tomas Alfredson.

The sole screening of British director Thomas Clay's "Soi Cowboy," which was shot entirely in Thailand, also sold out, with several determined audience members sitting in the aisles to catch it.

One event that left a negative impact on the festival was the decision by organizers to cancel the showing of "Children of the Dark," a Japanese film about child prostitution in Thailand, because they felt the subject matter was too sensitive. The director and producers of the film held a news conference in response, though according to the organizers, they have since met with the filmmakers and amicably discussed the decision.

Another incident that left organizers concerned came during a Q&A after the screening of Israeli film "The Lemon Tree." A heated verbal exchange between Palestinian and Israeli audience members was threatening to get ugly when the microphone went dead, something attributed to a technical malfunction.

"It's a great festival, although it needs to develop and has a way to go and should try to involve new ideas and have larger concepts," producer Smith said at the red carpet party. He also noted that the accompanying Entertainment Expo, which served as a market of sorts, was flat.

The festival will present its Golden Kinnaree awards at a ceremony Sunday and close next Tuesday with "Nanayo" by Japanese director Naomi Kawase.