LOCATION AND TIMING are everything when it comes to film festivals. This year's Bangkok fest had the location sorted - fabulous hotels and palaces to host lavish parties, breezy sunshine, and a fireworks display and awards gala that could give the Olympics Organising Committee food for thought. But when it came to timing, the Bangkok International Film Festival was far from ideal. Organised for the second year by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the festival dates of January 22 to February 2 overlapped with two high-profile film festivals - Sundance in the US and Rotterdam in Europe. Then on January 25, there was another shindig that attracts Hollywood stars and media attention: the Golden Globes. It's not surprising that some of the stars and directors that were expected didn't turn up. Likewise, several films, including Oscar-nominated dramas Cold Mountain and 21 Grams, were pulled from the lineup because prints weren't made available in time. Festival organisers also feared they were going to lose another of the most eagerly awaited films - Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation - which was screening in the International Competition. But, at the last minute, a spare print was rushed to Bangkok. 'It was a typical international film festival - there were some bumps in the road, but that's normal,' says executive director Craig Prater, who formerly ran the highly regarded Palm Springs International Film Festival in the US. 'We saw a lot of improvements this year. It's great to see the local Thai audience getting excited about international cinema.' Although ticket sales were slow at the beginning of the festival, they picked up once ads appeared in local papers. By the end of the 12-day event, many films were playing to packed houses. Apart from films from Hollywood and local fare, there were offerings from Europe, Latin America, India, South Korea and Japan. Southeast Asia was also represented in the Asean Competition, which featured 14 films. 'We'll go the same direction next year with the lineup of films, but we realise there are things that need to be polished, including the ticketing system and some of the travel arrangements,' says Prater. He acknowledges that January is busy for the international film industry and says it's possible TAT may consider other dates. 'But there's never a perfect time to have a film festival, and January is the ideal time for tourism in Thailand.' Increasing tourism is one of TAT's main reasons for investing so heavily in the festival. Although no one expects tourists to flock to Thailand just to watch movies, the festival is being used as a platform to promote the country as a high-quality, low-cost filmmaking location. The Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun was shot there in the 1970s, and the country's nascent tourism industry grew by five per cent almost as soon as the film was released. No doubt, the Thai government has taken note of events in New Zealand, where tourism increased by 20 per cent after The Lord Of The Rings drew attention to the remote island nation. As TAT is keen to point out, Thailand has much to offer international filmmakers - including great scenery and cheap but experienced crews - and is already attracting big-budget productions. Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger were recently in Thailand to shoot the second Bridget Jones film - Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. And Oliver Stone's biopic of Macedonian warrior Alexander the Great is currently shooting there. It was mostly thanks to Alexander that the festival's star wattage shot up towards the end. Stone was presented with a Career Achievement Award at the Golden Kinnaree awards ceremony on Saturday night, and turned up at the plush Royal Naval Auditorium with most of the film's cast, including Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer and British actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. 'We could have filmed all of this in America but human resources there are expensive,' said Stone at a press conference after the awards. He said he had also considered shooting in India, where some of the film is set and where Alexander's troops square off against the Indian army's elephants. 'But we chose Thailand because the elephants here are better managed and there's a good infrastructure for film.' Other award winners on Saturday included Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, about a gravely ill man reflecting on his life, which picked up the Golden Kinnaree for best film, and Jim Sheridan who was awarded best director for his modern-day immigrant's tale, In America. Neither Arcand nor Sheridan was on hand to collect the awards, but Chinese director Yang Li was there to accept the best actor prize, which was shared by the three leads of his multiple award-winning drama Blind Shaft. The best actress prize went to Giovanna Mezzogiorno for Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows, and Thai film Last Life In The Universe was awarded the prize for best Asean film. Hong Kong-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle received the prestigious Crystal Lens Award. Among other stars who made the trip were American actress Rachael Leigh Cook, Bai Ling - who starred in Anna And The King (which, ironically, was banned in Thailand) - and Michelle Yeoh. Festivals need to build a reputation and gain international recognition before stars and filmmakers will attend. TAT, in only its second year of organising the event, has a long way to go, but if it continues with the investment and enthusiasm that were on display this year then the global film business might just decide to book a ticket to Bangkok.