Local viewers bring Bangkok fest success

Organizers say admissions increased 28% over 2007

BANGKOK -- The world premiere of "Nanayo," shot almost entirely in Thailand by Japanese director Naomi Kawase, on Tuesday closed out a Bangkok International Film Festival that organizers are terming a major success.

Given the festival's history of scandal, last year's lackluster edition and difficulties at the start of this year's event -- when news of a scheduled film's banning grabbed international headlines -- organizers were delighted that 14,000 tickets were sold. That's an increase of 28% from last year's paid attendance -- an impressive feat considering that the number of films screened dropped to 79 from roughly 140 last year.

Although the festival bills itself as an event that boosts tourism, organizers felt the key to the attendance gains was the fact that, for the first time, every film featured Thai subtitles. As a result, more locals turned out to watch the films than had done so in previous years.

Festival director Jaruek Kaljareuk said the decision "paid off enormously."

The subtitles were operated manually using computers and second projectors, which generally worked out well, with a few exceptions.

During the screening of New Zealand director Vincent Ward's "Rain of the Children," Ward grew so incensed that the Thai subtitles weren't working properly that he went to the back of the theater and grabbed and threw the equipment at the operator, who was taken to a hospital.

The operator did not sustain any injuries, according to organizers, and Ward subsequently apologized.

Organizers were happy that 8% of the screenings sold out and that the festival enjoyed an occupancy rate of more than 50%.

The final festival budget ended up being less than $2 million -- it was originally projected at more than $2 million -- with a shortfall in targeted sponsorships playing a role. The tight budget meant that no big Hollywood stars could be flown in, as was the practice in the past.

Kaljareuk admitted this presented a challenge, as the festival has suffered from the perception of diminishing international appeal, but insisted that the strategy paid off.

"We felt that money spent on stars, their entourages, fees and expenses would be better spent elsewhere," he said. "The international guests we did invite came without fees or even food expenses, and came with the sole motivation of supporting the festival. I am particularly grateful to them."