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Bangkok film festival opens amidst controversy

The big-budget event, which hopes to ultimately shape up as one of the most prestigious cinematic gatherings in the world, opens amid a row which has provoked a schism within Thai movie industry.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2006 15:12 IST

Movie moguls and screen stars from around the world descend on Bangkok Friday as the red carpet is rolled out for one of the newest yet most lavish and controversial film festivals on the industry's calendar.

Actors Willem Dafoe, Christopher Lee, Hayden Christensen and Vanessa Redgrave, along with directors Terry Gilliam and Fred Schapisi head an all-star cast at the fourth Bangkok International Film Festival which runs for 11 days. Indian director Deepa Mehta will also be at the fest.

But the big-budget event, which hopes to ultimately shape up as one of the most prestigious cinematic gatherings in the world, opens amid a row which has provoked a schism within the Thai movie industry.

The nation's film industry group saw a split in its ranks after calling a boycott of the festival, reportedly because the event's organisers, the state-run tourism authority, bypassed it and dealt directly with movie production firms.

Major production companies quit the National Film Associations of Thailand in protest and the federation's president Somsak Techarattanaprasert resigned last Friday after more than three years in office, citing the conflict.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand responded by saying it was surprised at the boycott and had been too busy organising tsunami anniversary events to speak with the federation directly.

The row may have overshadowed the opening, but it has failed to deter an impressive industry alumni from jetting in for the festival, which will show more than 170 feature-length films from dozens of countries and 30 short films from across Asia.

The list includes 12 international films vying for the Golden Kinnaree, the event's top awards decided by a jury and to be handed out at a glittering ceremony next Friday.

One of the most recent film festivals on the movie circuit, Bangkok lags well behind Asia's premier film festival in Busan, South Korea, in terms of prestige -- let alone Venice or Cannes.

But it hopes its spending power and ability to attract international names will help reel in its rivals.

Opening before the climax of Berlin's film festival this week, Bangkok has few world premieres to boast of and is touted to be as much a tourist event as an auteur gathering.

Even so, its programme includes some arthouse films yet to debut in Asia, such as Friday night's opening film Invisible Waves, set in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand's resort island of Phuket after the 2004 tsunami.

Invisible Waves, by director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, is the first Thai picture in 46 years to compete for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival to be awarded Saturday.

Other stars attending include British actress Helen Mirren, Indian director Deepa Mehta and Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford.

Legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve will be honoured with the Golden Kinnaree Career Achievement Award for her contribution to cinema.

Thai action star and stunt man Sombat Metanee will receive an honorary award for his films including Nine Dragons, Killer of Romance and Tears of the Black Tiger.

The festival closes with Rent, based on the musical that focuses on poverty, illness and AIDS.

First Published: Feb 17, 2006 15:09 IST