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The Thai Extravaganza

The Bangkok International Film Festival (Jan 22 to Feb 2) presents more than 150 films from 40 countries, seminars, workshops, a Film Market and even a Cinematographer's Day. The event includes a large Indian package, says LEKHA J. SHANKAR.

"Mathrubhoomi" ... Manish Jha's controversial film on women has created waves at festivals around the world.

AFTER A successful film festival last September, Bangkok begins the new year with a bigger and more ambitious cinematic event (Jan 22-Feb 2). The Bangkok International Film Festival presents more than 150 films from 40 countries, seminars, workshops, a Film Market, even a Cinematographer's Day.

Sponsored by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) the 10-day cinematic extravaganza has been chalked out by three seasoned programmers from Los Angeles, who are associated with the prestigious Palm Springs Film Festival — Craig Prater, Jennifer Stark and Therese Hayes.

``This year's Festival will showcase some of the finest cinema in the world,'' says Jennifer Stark. ``Audiences will also gain exposure to the emerging Thai and ASEAN films," she adds.

Craig Prater hopes Bangkok would soon become one of the top cinema cities of the world.

"Maqbool" ... Vishal Bharadwaj's underworld story is a grim drama with `Macbeth'-like intonations.

Therese Hayes is the Indophile who has brought a ``real strong package'' of films from India. This includes Manish Jha's controversial film on women "Mathrubhoomi" which has elicited praise and censure and created waves at festivals around the world. Justifying his story of a single woman raped by an entire village of bestial men, the Bihar-based Director quips, ``Recent media reports show that these things still happen here. The position of women has not changed much in our country.''

Then there is "Maqbool," Vishal Bharadwaj's underworld story starring Om Puri, Irfan Khan, Tabu, with its grim drama and `Macbeth'-like intonations. Bharadwaj describes it as a story of ``Guilt, which can affect people from any field — corporate, underworld, domestic.'' After winning awards for his musical compositions in films like "Godmother" and "Maachis", the articulate director made an award-winning children's film, "Makdee," and is now winning acclaim for his latest thriller.

The others are Chandraprakash Dwivedi's much-talked-about "Pinjar", starring Urmila Matondkar and Manoj Bajpai. It is based on Amrita Pritam's novel set in Pakistan.

Apart from a documentary of Bombay's legendary Taj Hotel by Zafar Hai called "Taj of Apollo Bunder," the package includes two films by Kerala's most popular directors — T.V. Chandran and Sibi Malayil. Both these films showed to packed houses at the recent Kerala Film Festival.

Cuba's legendary director Humberto Solas described Rituparno Ghosh's "Choker Bali" as `great'.

Sibi's "Ente Veedu Appoontem" is an emotional drama of sibling jealousy, starring actor Jairam, real-life son, and Jyotirmayee, while Chandran's "Padam Onnu — Oru Vilapam" is the moving tale of a young Muslim divorcee which the director said were real-life occurrences in Kerala's Nilambur district.

One of the significant new sections of the Bangkok Film Festival centres round the cinema of the ASEAN region. Among these, "String-less Violin" from Indonesia is a sensitive love-story with strong musical scores by talented woman painter-musician-filmmaker Sekar Ayu Asmara and "Magnifico" from the Philippines, a touching family drama centring round a fascinatingly altruistic child.

The World Cinema section includes some of the most talked-about films of today, including "Calendar Girls" from the U.K., starring Helen Mirren and directed by Nigel Cole, "Snow Walker" from Canada and "The Nominee" from Chile.

The two mega films are Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" and Robert Altman's "The Company."

The Competition section has 12 films including the much talked about "Lost in Translation" by Sofia Coppola, "Rosenstrausee" by Margaret von Trattaas, "The Barbarian Invasions" by Dennis Arcaud, as also the much-applauded "August Sun" by Sri Lankan Director Prassana Vithanage and "Choker Bali" by our own Rituparno Ghosh.

Ghosh's film was described as `great' by Cuba's legendary director Humberto Solas at the recent Kerala Film Festival. Aishwarya Rai is expected to attend the screening of the film in Bangkok.

Of the two mega films, one is Bernado Bertolucci's "The Dreamer".

A highlight of the Festival is an important section on Thai Cinema .This includes a Retrospective of Thai Documentaries and a Thai Panorama of recent films.

The former includes well-known docu-dramas like "14 October", "Chinatown Montage" and "The Mysterious Object at Noon". The latter includes the sensational film on a real-life transsexual boxer, "Beautiful Boxer", that has just been released in the country, and the independent film that premiered at the Berlin Festival, "One Night Husband," and other new films like "First Flight," "Omen" and "Karuda."

A unique addition to the festival is a Cinematographers' Day with selections from the films of top cinematographers like Walter Caravalho's "Madam Sata", Anthony Dod's "Dogville", Shoji Ueda's "Warabinokou".

There will be a `Conversation' with Christopher Doyle, the Australian photographer most familiar with Asian audiences. Some of his award-winning Asian films will be screened, including "Hero", "Three", the mesmeric "In the Mood for Love" and his recent Thai film, "Last life in the Universe" that won an award at Venice. He will be presented with the Crystal Lens Award.

Chandraprakash Dwivedi's "Pinjar" is based on Amrita Pritam's novel set in Pakistan.

The chief Golden Kinaree Awards has 10 categories with high cash prizes. A special award will be two $3000 scholarships from the New York Film Academy to attend a film workshop in New York for two weeks. There will also be a FIPRESCI award, whose Chairman Derek Malcolm said he was eagerly looking forward to the Bangkok event. Another unique award would be a 6000 Euro Jameson Short Film Award. This is one of only three festivals outside Europe giving the award.

A very important feature of the festival would be a Film Market, which would bring producers, distributors and independent companies from overseas.

Among the workshops and seminars at the Market, would be a unique one on film financing by Pricewater House Coopers and another on tax-structures by the British law firm Davenport Lyons. ``We want to build up on last year's festival which was a huge success,'' said TAT Governor Juthamas Siriwan. She stated that the Film Festival would be important not just from the cinematic point of view but also from that of the tourist, as it would project the country's exciting potential, in terms of locations, services, technical facilities. ``We are targeting India's film industry too,'' she added.

This year's Bangkok International Film Festival aims, indeed, at a `total' vision, which augurs well for a country that's slowly but surely developing a unique film culture of its own.

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