Asia Life

Thailand International Film Destination Festival Kicks Off

A new film festival meant to attract foreign filmmakers to the Kingdom has debuted in Bangkok this week.

Asia’s film industry is huge and has the film festivals to prove it. From the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival to the Mumbai Film Festival and the massive cinematic gala held in Busan, South Korea each year, there is never a dull moment for Asian cinephiles.

The Land of Smiles has tacked on a new addition to this running list with the Thailand International Film Destination Festival, debuting in Bangkok April 1 to 10. But this festival has a twist. While most festivals dubbed “international” are open to entries from all over the globe, this one is specifically focused on Thailand as a filmmaking destination.

At the festival currently underway in the nation’s capital, films set in Thailand will be screened in downtown Bangkok, as well as seminars on the industry and tours of the nation’s production facilities. Indie projects filmed in Thailand will be screened, including Thai action director Prachya Pinkaew’s Elephant White (starring Kevin Bacon and Djimon Hounsou), Danish romantic comedy Teddy Bear, and Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth. The Hong Kong-based Pang Brothers (Danny and Oxide Pang) will also screen their 2007 thriller The Detective.

A nation that punches well above its weight as a film location, Thailand is Southeast Asia’s strongest magnet for foreign filmmakers. According to the Thailand Film Office, 636 foreign films were made in Thailand in last year alone. Over the past five years, foreign movie ventures have contributed U.S. $340 million (10 billion baht) to Thailand’s economy, the Hollywood Reported points out. In 2011, the film and television industry generated U.S. $2.2 billion and employed 86,600 people.

The dystopian backpacker film The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), Bangkok Dangerous (Nicholas Cage) and the smash comedic hit The Hangover Part II (the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time) come to mind for many due to their obvious sense of place.

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Nor is the trend is limited to Hollywood productions. Lost in Thailand (China’s answer to The Hangover franchise) was so popular with Mainland audiences last year that it has been credited with precipitating a tourist boom to Thailand, already a popular destination.

The Thai trilingual (Japanese, Thai, English) film Last Life in the Universe, starring Tadanobu Asano and directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, with cinematography by Australian Christopher Doyle (famed for his collaborations with Wong Kar Wai), is a fantastic example of a film made in Thailand with an art-house touch. And Wong Kar Wai’s legendary film In the Mood for Love, though set in Hong Kong, was in fact partly filmed in Bangkok.

In an effort to encourage even more of these projects, the Thailand International Film Destination Festival is sweetening the pot for 50 film submissions (from an initial 825) made on location by directors from all corners of the globe in The Amazing Thailand Film Challenge. The aspiring auteurs will have return tickets paid in full with a budget to make the short film projects they have proposed. Total prizes of one million baht (approximately U.S. $30,000) will be awarded to the winners.

With its place cemented as Southeast Asia’s preeminent filming location, Thailand is now setting its sights on fortifying its domestic film output. On April 3, it was reported that the nation’s Culture Ministry plans to invest 30 million baht in its domestic film industry. Some of the money will be allocated for films that promote a greater understanding of Thailand’s cultural and artistic traditions.

The goal, according to the report: to solidify the Kingdom’s preeminence in the region’s cinematic scene by 2015, just ahead of the start of the ASEAN Economic Community.