The Kingdom's value as a film location is given a boost with the screening of golden oldies and two tourism-related competitions
The Thailand International Film Destination Festival returns this month for its fifth edition and unlike in previous years is focusing on major movies filmed here in Thailand, two of them showing a very different country from the one we know today.
Running from July 21 to 25 at Paragon Cineplex, the movie menu includes the 1974 spy thriller, “James Bond: The Man With The Golden Gun” and the multi-award winning “The Deer Hunter” released in 1978.
The other three films are “Air America” (1990), “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and Oliver Stone’s epic “Alexander”, both released in 2004.
“Movies and TV series are far more powerful in encouraging visitors than promo clips,” says Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. “We can see that from the Chinese tourists who flocked to Thailand after the success of the Chinese film ‘Lost in Thailand’.
“We have tourism strategies which aim to generate income for the country, bring income to communities, improve the quality of life for Thai people, and add value to Thailand’s tourism. Actual number of tourists is not our priority,” she adds.
While the older films have been carefully restored to ensure clarity of vision and sound, Thai films from the same era, among them a series of blockbusters featuring 1970’s superstars Mit Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowaraj, have fallen prey to the lack of proper conservation.
A stuntman and actor who regularly appears in foreign films, Saichia Wongwirot is hopeful that the festival will help him and his colleagues find more work. “The pay for a foreign production is better than on a Thai one but there’s no stability, particularly for stunt work. Most actors, myself included, have to do other jobs to survive.
“The festival will help attract more productions to Thailand that means we will get more jobs,” says Saichia, 49, who has been in the business for 30 years and is recognisable from Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” for which he also followed the crew to the UK and Kenya.
The festival’s organiser had originally planned to show another James Bond film – “Tomorrow Never Dies” – shot here in 1997 and starred Pierce Brosnan as 007 – but later changed the programme.
The film was shot mainly in Phuket and Phang Nga, particularly around Koh Tapu, which subsequently became known as James Bond Island.
Directed by Michael Cimino, “The Deer Hunter” stars Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken and tells the story of three Russian-American steelworkers whose lives are changed forever after serving in the Vietnam War. Thailand portrays war-torn Vietnam and Sai Yok in Kanchanaburi the Viet Cong prison camp. The Russian roulette scene was also filmed here. The film went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken.
“Air America” also dealt with the Vietnam War and starred Mel Gibson, an A-list actor from the action comedy franchise “Lethal Weapon” franchise, and a very young Robert Downey Jr, as two American pilots. This time Thailand doubled for Laos and Thai actress Sinjai Plengpanich played Gibson’s wife.
The 2004 epic “Alexander” directed by Oliver Stone was based on the life of Alexander the Great with Colin Farrell in the title role. The film was shot in Saraburi and Ubon Ratchathani and also featured Thai actors Bin Bunluerit as King Porus and Jaran Ngramdee as an Indian prince
“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”, the sequel to the hugely popular “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, saw Bridget (Renee Zellweger) on holiday in Thailand where she gets arrested and spends time in jail. Our very own Rong Khaomoolkhadee also starred.
Another highlight of the festival is the Thailand Short Film Competition. Organised by the Department of Tourism, and designed to push Thailand as the “World’s Best Film Location”, this year’s theme is “Fascinating Destination” and is focusing on promoting eight tourism clusters in Thailand to international filmmakers.
Running from July 21 to 25, the competition will see 24 teams, three for each cluster, selected by the judges to make a short film at each of the eight tourism clusters. Each team consists of three members, namely two foreign film students in charge of producing the film, and one Thai film student as a production assistant who is also in charge of coordinating with film locations. This grouping method aims to promote international collaboration and encourage knowledge exchange. Eight prizes will be given out to the winning team of each cluster with the overall winner taking home Bt300,000.
Another special activity for this year is a short film competition for Thai students on the topic “Tourism Linked to Royal Projects” to pay homage to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Participants can choose any of the 29 Royal Projects selected for this competition. In the first round, a total of 30 teams will be chosen to present their ideas to Thailand’s top directors including Nonzee Nimibutr, Prachya Pinkaew and Soros Sukhum, and Assoc Prof Patamavadee Charuworn of the Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University. Nine teams will then be chosen to make short films at actual locations with the best team winning Bt100,000 and the chance to join film festivals in other countries, such as the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.
“The competition is designed to raise awareness among young Thai filmmakers of the value of the royal project. The contest will let them visit the project and witness how the King’s initiatives help generate income for communities,” says Kobkarn.
The panel of judges for this competition includes Chantima Choey- sanguan, director of the Film and Video Rating Committee 1, which gives permission to foreign filmmakers to shoot here, the Thailand Film Office’s director Worateera Suvarnsorn, Assoc Prof Chamroenlak Thanawangnoi, a film lecturer from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication and Bangkok Critics Assembly president Nakorn Veeraprawat.
They’ll be joined by foreign judges Glenn S Gainor, president of Sony Pictures Screen Gems, South Korean director Park Kwang Soo, and American actress from “’Til Death” and “Desperate Housewives” Joely Fisher.
The awards ceremony will take place on July 27 at Siam Pawalai, Siam Paragon.
In 2016, more than 700 foreign films were shot in Thailand, generating Bt2.3 billion. In the first five months of this year (January-May), 369 films and videos were shot in Thailand, generating Bt1.4 billion, higher than in the same period last year, which saw 323 films and videos and Bt846 million in revenue.
Check out the latest updates at www.ThailandFilmDestination.com.