Strong Thais

The Bangkok International Film Festival carries on despite political upheaval.

BANGKOK -- While September's "smooth as silk" coup d'etat in Thailand was bloodless, the Bangkok International Film Festival has taken a bit of a battering in part due to last fall's military takeover.

The festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary when it takes place July 19-29, and it will have to overcome a budget that is one-third of what it was the previous year -- 60 million baht ($1.8 million), down from 180 million baht ($5.4 million) in 2006.

The festival was supposed to commence Jan. 26. But after an interim government was installed shortly after the coup, things were still logistically chaotic, and allocations of government funds to the fest's organizers were delayed. So, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, organizers of the event, announced in late December that the gathering would be postponed. And once funds stopped flowing, TAT had no choice but to part ways with the previously used festival management company, the Beverly Hills-based Film Festival Management.

"There was a lot of process involved," says Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, international PR director for TAT, who has been put in charge of the event. "It was not like you could snap your fingers, and money could be in L.A."

According to both parties, the decision to split was mutual, and their relationship remains strong. But FFM's performance during the 2006 fest had come under fire in the Thai media and within the movie industry. There were loud complaints that the event concentrated on Western audiences and neglected Thai films, with particular outrage at the absence of Thai subtitles on foreign films.

"Some of the things were deficient last year. I'll be the first one to agree with that," Kunjara Na Ayudhya says. "It could have been better -- a lot of people complained. We took all of that into consideration."

The search for a festival director is still on. It has been rumored that Kriangsak "Victor" Silakong, director of the smaller Bangkok World Film Festival, could take the reins, but no official announcement has been made. Kunjara Na Ayudhya says that a director will be selected within the month, and that the chances it would be Silakong are "50/50 at this time."

There will be fewer films -- 100, compared with 2006's 150, featured during the 10-day fest. The Bangkok Film Market, an industry trade show, will take place July 23-25.

Surasak Sunpituksaree, secretary general of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, which helps promote and develop the Thai movie industry, feels that the direction of the event is much better this year.

"In the past, TAT did not recognize local film producers, maybe due to the recommendation from the overseas organizers," Sunpituksaree says. "This will be a film event, not a tourism event."