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Thailand Production-Tunami Followup

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Scott Rosenberg, managing director of Asian Movie Works International Company and Asia Pacific bureau chief of Film Journal International, recently met with the Thai Film Office and a representative of Thailand’s Ministry of Sports and Tourism, under which the Film Board and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) are housed. TAT is the agency that funds the Bangkok International Film Festival. Rosenberg laid out key factors that will impact the local and foreign industry in Thailand to a greater extent in 2005.First, says Rosenberg, there’s the elections. Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s prime minister, has just won a second term. This is problematic, as the U.S. has cited the Thai government for civil rights abuse with regard to his policies dealing with the separatist Muslims in the south, a problem that has caused civil violence and affected film production in those areas.Also, says Rosenberg, there is infighting now within the Ministry of Sports and Tourism over the lucrative location shooting business. The Thai Film Office that issues permits, but has no money or power as a government agency, is at odds with the TAT, which, according to some, has wasted a reported $10 million (USD) on the Bangkok International Film Festival in the name of promoting tourism instead of “film” or the “film industry.” It comes down to a battle between tourism and sports minister Sontaya Kunplome and TAT governor Juthamas Siriwan. Mrs. Juthamas is busily promoting the Andaman area of Thailand, the desirable coastal location preferred by many filmmakers.“The Ministry of Tourism and Sports may be reorganized to absorb offices in the Ministry of Culture, which may mean Sontaya will lose power and politicians in Culture may take over more of the tasks and duties of film-related matters,” says Rosenberg. “It’s not known if this is good or bad yet, but the Thai private sector is lobbying heavily at this point with Culture so they are more ‘domestic film industry friendly’ if they come to power” he adds.Many have been lobbying the government to put financial incentives in place to attract film crews. The Finance Ministry is very powerful, and even though they are continually shown positive economic models by people such as Studio International executives and film producers Tony To and Patrick Murray, who want to build “Studios Bangkok” this spring, and producers Barrie Osborne and Robert Mullis, who want to set up an Asian film fund, the Ministry has not yet seen fit to recognize the film business as a viable industry worth promoting.According to Rosenberg, “The Ministry of Culture is very supportive of a planned meeting on the part of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) that is planned for May 29–June 1 2005 on the resort island of Phuket, which was hit hard by the tsumani. The objective of the meeting will be to study film location destinations in crisis and effective plans for restoring confidence.”Since January 2005, the number of productions shot in Thailand has decreased, although 10 documentaries have filmed in the Andaman area referencing the tsunami. The Ministry of Culture has requested the Film Board do an analysis of exactly how filming has been affected in the tsunami struck region.Recapping the situation regarding the feature Stealth—which will be released this summer by Columbia and was shot prior to the tsunami—Rosenberg said: “[Executive producer] Bennett Walsh was pressured by Sony Pictures [because southern Thailand’s] religious and civil violence might affect the shoot, and obviously the bottom line. It did not matter that the incidents were taking place hundreds of miles away.” Sony was, according to Bennett, “very concerned,” so the producers had no choice but to replicate scenes in Thailand’s northern areas (where they were ably assisted, they said, by The Sixth Element, the local Thai production crew).According to Walsh, Thailand needs a “one-stop-shop” film office like other films centers have that can facilitate permitting and cut through bureaucracy. “But,” adds Rosenberg, “that will never happen here as there is very little coordination between government agencies. It will only happen if the prime minister wills it to be so.”At present, the people in the tsunami-affected areas are, according to Rosenberg, “fighting” many realities and superstitious fears in the aftermath of the disaster. The government has decreed strict regulations regarding rebuilding and inhabiting the areas where they once lived. The locals are also sighting fish and mammal species never before seen in those areas, a side effect of the massive earth shifts and ecological changes the area suffered. And they continue to fight for the tourism business that was once their livelihood.

Written by April MacIntyre

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