//Deepa Mehta's

Deepa Mehta's

(AFP), 25 February 2006

BANGKOK – Indian-born director Deepa Mehta was celebrating on Saturday after her problem-plagued film “Water” finally found its way to success, winning best film at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

“Water”, which focuses on the plight of castigated widows in Gandhi-era India, was nearly abandoned by Mehta after protests by Hindu extremists halted filming and then became the centre of a bitter tug-of-war at the festival.

The director received death threats and was forced to shelve the movie in 2000 after Indian authorities shut down filming amid protests by Hindu extremists. She finally shot the film in Sri Lanka five years later.

In Bangkok, organisers said a Thai studio had tried to pull ”Water” from the competition as part of a boycott of the festival being staged by the nation’s film industry group which claims it was not properly consulted over the event.

But Mehta insisted the film be shown and produced a contract giving her rights to show “Water” at any festival, the event’s director Craig Prater told AFP.

Mehta said that the protests had made her too angry to resume filming for years, but said the festival row was “no big deal”.

“It’s a filmmaker’s prerogative to show it where they want. To renege would have been lousy,” she told AFP, adding her film had been “blessed”.

“The award is great. The competition was very tough and and it was awarded by my peers, people I respect.”

A jury led by Australian director Fred Schepisi awarded the prize which Princess Ubol Ratana of Thailand presented to Mehta and Canadian David Hamilton at a star-studded awards ceremony in the capital late Friday.

“Water” has already proved a smash hit in Canada, where Mehta now lives, having opened five film festivals and grossed almost two million dollars at the Canadian box office since November.

South Korea’s Park Chan-Wook Friday won his second successive best director award at the festival for his mystery thriller ”Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”. He shared the directing prize last year for “Old Boy” which also won him the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004.

The Golden Kinnaree awards — named after a half-woman, half-bird mythical Thai creature — are not considered among the most prestigious in the movie world, but last year’s big winner, Spanish movie “The Sea Inside”, went on to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film the following month.

The only entry in this year’s competition to be nominated as best foreign film at next month’s Academy Awards is “Tsotsi”, which won a best actor award for 21-year-old South African actor Presley Chweneyagae, who plays a thug living in a township near Johannesburg.

“Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, meanwhile, won best actress for her role as a pre-operative transsexual in ”Transamerica”, a performance that also has her in the running for an Oscar next month.

Some 15 Golden Kinnarees were handed out at the red carpet event, which included Hollywood actors Christopher Lee and Willem Dafoe.

Vietnamese film “Bride of Silence” by the brother-and-sister team of Doan Minh Phuong And Doan Thanh Nghia won best film in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian nations) category.

“This was a total surprise. Vietnamese films have not been recognized before like this,” an emotional Doan Minh Phuong told AFP.

French screen icon Catherine Deneuve was presented with a career achievement award, while Wouter Barendrecht and Michael J. Werner’s company Fortissimo Films received a Golden Kinnaree for contribution to Asian cinema.

Veteran Thai action star and stunt man Sombat Metanee also received an honorary award.

Bangkok is one of the newest yet most lavish and controversial film festivals in the industry’s calendar.

But organisers have run into conflict with some Thai filmmakers over their complaint that the programmers failed to adequately consult them.

The country’s industry group saw a split in its ranks after it called a boycott of the festival and its president resigned.

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