The Bangkok International Film Festival 2009 closed Wednesday. After seeing thirteen programs in six days, I was generally impressed with the programming and disappointed with the operations.
As for the festival’s operations, they remain more focused on attracting celebrities unrelated to the films and creating events for hi-so types, rather than on connecting ordinary people with interesting films from around the world.
- The interesting films are there – good programming by the Thai Film Directors’ Association – but scheduling is poorly thought out (120 films in 2 venues in 6 days) with few early or late shows and a lot of overlapping of films that would appeal to a similar audience.
- Publicity about scheduling was largely missing or, when it did exist, was late. The final schedule wasn’t released until nine days before the shows began. Even then, information was missing on the poorly-designed website. The comprehensive programs guides, which were nicely done, weren’t available until the opening day of the festival, much too late to do any good.
- Finally, ticketing policies were a mess. The two cinemas are operated by different chains, one provided some advance tickets, the other did not. Both offered different discount voucher schemes which could only be used for films at their cinema.
As I mentioned, the programming was good. Here are the films I saw that I think you should really make the effort to seek out. With the exception of the final one, they will likely play in your area, either in limited commercial release or as part of a film festival. At the very least, look for them on Netflix.
Uruphong Raksasad (THAILAND)
Facing seizure of their own lands, two families find themselves farming together on the same field, hoping to get through just another rice-farming season. But no matter how much the world is evolving, how much the country is going through economic, political and social changes, they still cannot grasp that ideology of happiness. This beautifully shot documentary captures the reality of tennant farming and sheds light onto a side of life in developing economies that are far outside the tourism authorities’ camera lens.
Anders Høgsbro Østergaard (DENMARK)
Armed with small handy cams, undercover “Video Journalists” in Burma keep up the flow of news from their closed country despite risking torture and life in jail. Their material is smuggled out of Burma and broadcast back via satellite. This opportunity to see more footage of the recent uprising in Burma, especially with the foreknowledge of how it all turns out, is stirring, and the story is well-constructed. Geting outside the two-minute briefs from the nightly news provides additional insight into the plight of the Burmese people.
Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi
Ian Olds (UNITED STATES)
This is a feature-length documentary that follows the relationship between an Afghan interpreter and American journalist Christian Parenti. This intimate portrait of two colleagues shifts dramatically when Ajmal is kidnapped along with an Italian reporter. The situation goes from bad to worse as foreign powers pressure for fast results, the Afghan government bungles its response and the specter of Taliban power looms in the background. What follows is the tragic story of one man forgotten in the crossfire. A bit difficult to watch but an important peek behind the curtain at the personal cost paid by those who try to get the story of their country out to the world.
I Killed My Mother
Xavier Dolan (CANADA)
Cannes Film Festival award-winning director Xaview Dolan tells the semi-autobiographical story of a brash 17-year old who dislikes his mother intensely. He gauges her with contempt, only seeing her out-of-date sweaters, her kitschy decor and the vile bread crumbs that lodge in the corners of her noisy mouth. Confused and torn by a love-hate relationship that obsesses him more and more each day, the young man wanders in and out of an adolescence that is both marginal and typical, combining artistic discovery, openness to friendship, ostracism, and sex. All the while, he is consumed by his all encompassing contempt for this woman he somehow once loved. Very original story and a strong debut film.
Various Directors (THAILAND)
Sawasdee Bangkok is a collection of nine short films that celebrate – and take a long, hard look at – various aspects of Thailand’s capital city. The movies show the lives of Bangkokians big and small, young and old, rich and poor, which altogether form a colorful, complex tapestry of the people and the place known to many as the City of Angels. More cohesive than Paris j’taime, this film serves as a fascinating insight into the city and, despite being funded by a public agency, doesn’t shy away from showing the city’s blemishes.