The 2004 AIDS Film Festival, held in Bangkok, Thailand, during the 15th International AIDS Conference, was a resounding success.
Spread across three venues, and showcasing over 50 film titles, the festival was a highlight of the Silabha Art and Cultural Programme of the Conference. It was co-organised by TVE Asia Pacific.
Based on a rough estimate, over 8,000 persons attended the film festival. Most joined the screenings at the IMPACT Convention Centre in Muang Thong Thani -- the conference venue, where organisers recorded 17,000 registered delegates and close to 20,000 participants during the week.
The two city venues -- Lido cinema and Goethe Institut -- also reported considerable interest and regular visitors that included Thai public and expatriates.
Hollywood movie actor and AIDS activist Richard Gere opened the film festival on Monday, July 12, at a gala evening ceremony at Bangkok's prestigious Scala theatre. The event was widely reported by the Thai and international media.
In a moving speech, Mr Gere said his experience with persons living with HIV had changed his life even more than his study of Tibetan Buddhism. He recalled how he lost a very close friend to the global pandemic.
"I don't want anyone else to die like that," he said, without revealing his friend's name. He persuaded the audience -- which included diplomats, businessmen, journalists, activists and government officials -- to observe a minute of silence in memory of all known and unknown persons who had lost their lives to AIDS.
He added: "It (AIDS) has gone on too long, way too long. I was also thinking today of the US$ 300 billion+ that we have wasted on an insane war in Iraq." This remark drew rapturous applause from the audience.
Thailand's Senator Mechai Viravaidya, widely known as "Mr Condom" for his joyful public distribution of condoms throughout the country, spoke immediately afterwards. He said: "The Thai people love you…You must come back, and we hope you'll be the next President of the United States!"
Mr Gere, grinning broadly, retorted: "I am not running, and I will not accept."
The gala evening culminated with the screening of A Closer Walk directed by Academy Award nominated Robert Bilheimer. Described as the first to provide a definitive portrayal of humankind's confrontation with AIDS, it was among over 120 entries received from all geographical regions when the festival was announced in May 2004.
The film festival was organised to showcase the best audio-visual content on HIV/AIDS, produced in television, video, cinema and multimedia formats, in all parts of the world during the past few years. It provided a powerful audio-visual context to the scientific, economic, social and cultural aspects of HIV/AIDS being discussed at the conference.
At IMPACT Centre Room 11, screenings ran every day (July 12 - 15 inclusive) from 1 pm to 8 pm, often to a full house. For more than half of the over 40 films screened there, the film-makers were present in person to engage the live audience.
"We had some very positive and encouraging feedback from both the film-makers and our audiences," says Manori Wijesekera, Regional Programme Officer of TVE Asia Pacific. "The film-makers were particularly appreciative of the well-organised logistics and promotional aspects of the festival, and the wide-ranging promotion we generated using print and online media."
"From the poster design through the opening night, the presentations at various cinemas and the screenings on location at IMPACT Convention Centre -- in my experience and that of persons to whom I spoke -- all the elements of the festival came together very well" says Jill Kruger, Producer of Deadly Myths. "I made contact with a number of viewers who were interested in further promotion of my film and also with a few other film-makers. This is always valuable and a critical part of Film Festival participation."
A number of films had their global or Asian premieres during the festival, with a few racing against time to make the deadline. Among these was a one-minute TV spot from Cambodia, featuring action movie star Jackie Chan and an animated "Mr Condom". Produced by the BBC World Service Trust, the spot shows the duo taking on HIV -- the invisible HIV that causes AIDS -- by encouraging the use of condoms.
The overall selection of films at the festival represented a broad range of issues, themes, formats and perspectives. It includes a variety of genres: documentaries, docu-drama, current affairs programming, short television spots and entertainment formats -- animation, dramas and reality television.
The line-up included productions made for broadcast television as well as educational and informational films made for educational, activist and advocacy purposes.
The 2004 AIDS Film Festival was a collaboration with Apex International Entertainment Company of Thailand and the Goethe Institut of Bangkok. It is supported by Canon Thailand, Novib - Oxfam Netherlands, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP).
Photo credit: Jerome Ming and TVE Asia Pacific