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Thailand International Film Destination Festival

THAILAND  INTERNATIONAL FILM DESTINATION FESTIVAL

 

A Festival that celebrates a Destination

 

“Films made in Thailand look like high-budget  productions, although they are low-budget ,because  of the superior facilities ."

 

Inspite of political strife in the country, there has been a range of film festivals in the country.

The biggest was the  ‘Thailand International Destination  Film Festival’ ,organized by the Department of Tourism,  which concluded last week, with the screening of 17  movies shot in the country, as also

the ‘Amazing Thailand Film Challenge’  competition , where  nearly 100 young film-makers  from around the world made ‘short’ films  on the country within a limited budget and time-frame,  and a  well-attended Workshop on Film Location , conducted by noted Hollywood Location-Manager Chris Baugh from Paramount Pictures  ( ‘Argo, Transcendence’).

Among the big names  who shot in the country, and attended the festival, were  renowned cinematographers Larry Smith, Geoff Boyle, Ross Clarkson .

The Festival  saw the world-premieres of  three films ,including the directorial debut of   Larry Smith,  ‘Traffickers’ , and  Oscar-winning producer  Peter Fudakowski  , ‘ Secret Sharer.’

Smith’s story, set in Australia, Singapore, was  re-created in Thailand, and completed in 25 days at a budget of $ 2 million, which he says  he would not have been able to pull off in any other country. Interestingly, his lead pair were popular Thai star Guy Ratchanont ad LA-based American-Thai actress  Krystal Vee (she acted in 4 films,at the Festival).

Smith is already working on his next script, as he has an exciting  five-year  business plan with his  financier Martin Vestergaard .

“ We’re aiming  to produce one film a year , for  five years” said Vestergaard “  and we’re looking  at cost-effective films, with good stories.” Smith’s next film is based on a Dubai-story, and he was flying there to acquire the rights.

But  the ‘Only God Forgives’ cinematographer warned that Thailand needed to offer more incentives, if it was to remain in the race.

“ They don’t  even refund the VAT tax!” he complained. Malaysia on the other hand , had  begun to offer a  30% rebate ,if the  budget of the film exceeded $ 1 million, he informed.

“With  the formation of  the  ‘Asean’ union  next year, Thailand needs to watch out, as we would  have greater choices” he stated.

Secret Sharer’ , based on a short story by Joseph Conrad ,was shot  within the confines of a ship,  on the East  China Sea.  It had a cast  from six  nationalities, including the lead-pair from Britain ,China, and many non-professional artistes from Thailand, at a budget of  $4 million,  according to well-known Thailand line-producer Tom Warrenne of  ‘De Warrenne Pictures.' The latter is location-hunting in Thailand,for another mega Hollwyood action- film 'Mechanic 2'.

According to him,Thailand was a popular film-destination for top Hollywood production-houses ,like Paramount Films,Millenium Films etc.

Another debut film-maker who premiered his film at the Festival, was  television producer Corrado Jay Boccia. His  action-drama   ‘A Stranger in Paradise’  had a  multi-global cast and crew- Columbian actress Catalina Moreno (based in LA), American actor Sturat Townsend, French and Indian producers from Bangkok, Paul Vacharasinthu and Kulthep Narula. 

Infact it's the first international film of Narula's Benetone Films,which has been involved with more than 70 Indian film productions in Thailand.Their American office is called Benetone Hillin Entertainment Co.

Boccia ‘s company ‘24/7’ has other film projects lined up, including a grand biopic on  Jim Thompson ,which he is all set  to start shooting in January. He informed that a ‘big international star’ would be playing the lead.

James Chankin, producer/director of   ‘The Mark: Redemption 2’  said he had spent six months in Thailand, last year, and shot three films, including  the first and second parts of  this film , all  within the budget of $ six million.

“ The dollar-baht rate is  good for film producers, and we can get maximum financial potential here” he stated ,adding “ Films made in Thailand look like high-budget  productions, although they are low-budget ,because  of the superior facilities .”

The lead-actress of his film was well-known Thai-Brit star Sonia Couling, who held her own in a complex tale of religion and sci-fi.

'Glory Days' was a Pattaya-based story, which producer/casting agent Ivy Isenberg,said was a a pleasure to make.  'Scorpion King 3' re-created a mythical world, among the ancient Khmer temples of Buriram,in north-east Thailand.Thai actress Krystal Vee played the lead in this film too.

A special film at the Festival, was  'Out Of Inferno',based on the life of firefighters,made by the well-known Pang Brothers from Hongkong..

'White Storm' was another action-packed drama from Hongkong. 

Indian film 'Bhaag Milka Bhaag',which swept the AIFA Awards,held at Florida recently, created its lush Australian beach-sequences in Phuket,Thailand.

Indian actor Abhinav Chaturvedi,who attended the festival, hoped to launch an Indo-Thai film production soon. 

Veteran New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison , of  ‘ Once were warriors’  and ‘Star Wars’ fame , who  acted in ‘Scorpion King 111’, stated that the Thai stunt men could match with the best in the world.

 “They do in one week what Hollywood would take a month!” That to a large extent accounts for our low budgets" he added.

Infact,the Thai stunt-men were raved over by renowned cinematographers Geoff Doyle ( 'Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li ') and Ross Clarkson ( " Ninja: Shadow of a tear.') as also debut director Jeremiah Hundley whose film 'Lazarus Papers' was screened at the festival.

An interesting character in 'Lazarus Papers' was played by actor- script-writer Damon Whitaker, brother of Hollywood icon Forest Whitaker, who was also in the Jury of the Short Film competion. He informed that he had an offer to write the script for two films by Thailand-based producers, to be shot in the country.

Bhutanese female film-maker Karma Deki, who was also on the Jury, informed that she had just completed her ambitious second film 'Kusuthara-The Pattern of Love', whose post-production she had done in Bangkok. There was a lot of anticipation about this film, a love-story between an American tourist and a married Bhutanese woman, she declared. She admitted that she was also considering a joint production with Thailand.

As for the Short Film competition, which focused  on different destinations in Thailand, the top prize was won by two foreign film-students from NYU, Charlotte Rabate from France  and Chananum Chotrungroj from Thailand.

Other prizes were won by film students from Philippines,Spain,Malaysia,who were part of 50 pairs of  students who partook in the film competition from around the world.

It was a pleasure to meet the country's top stunt-men,local and foreign -Ron Smoorneburg, Kevin Chisnall, Kawee 'Seng' Sirikhaneurit, Charlie Ruedpokanon, all of whome partook in many of the action-films screened at the Festival.

"Not many can match the martial super-star Scott Adkins (hero of the 'Ninja' series), but the Thai guys did! "  exclaimed  action-star Gary Daniel,who acted in three of the films,at the Festival.

The festival brought to the forefront, many Thai talents who have not been seen in local films-  Krystal Vee, ‘Only God Forgives’ star Vithaya Pansringarm ,   veteran of 42  ‘foreign’ productions,  Sahajak Boonthanakit, and others.

Program Director Paul Spurrier stated that the festival had newer films and larger audiences than its inaugural edition,last year.

However,one must admit that the ticket-distribution was badly handled, thanks to telephone-bookings,and quotas kept for VIPs who never turned up. 

Also strange was the system of asking audiences to fill a form,at the end of each film,where they were asked not to 'comment on the film ,but 'where' they had heard of the Festival!  It would have made sense to have an audience-poll,and choose the Most Popular Film,in a non-competitive festival like this. One hopes they  consider this,next year.

 Permanent Secretary,Ministry of Tourism & Sports, Dr Suwat Sidthilaw,said that the main aim of the festival,was to show that Politics had not dampened the spirit of the people in Thailand, and that  foreign film-shootings were important to the country.

According to the  Thai Dept of Tourism, more than 700 films were made in the country, last year ,which was  a 12.74 % increase, from 2012 .

This year, inspite  of the political problems , as many as 108  films have already been shot in  the country. They hope to gain a  revenue of  2.5 billion baht by the end of 2014.

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About LEKHA SHANKAR

SHANKAR LEKHA

I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.


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