The city of cinema

lifestyle November 27, 2015 01:00


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Despite having no movie theatres, Luang Prabang is set to host its sixth annual film fest

Back for a sixth edition from December 5 to 9, the Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF) has put together another selection of recent, critically acclaimed Southeast Asian films, transforming Laos’ historic former royal capital into a multiplex of sorts.
With no proper working cinema in the city itself, the LPFF puts up a screen outdoors, and keeps a stash of around 800 blue plastic chairs to create the main venue, which has nightly double-feature screenings and other cultural activities. By day, the festival entries screen in a rustic, but highly polished traditional wooden Lao house on the grounds of the Sofitel Luang Prabang, a former French colonial fortress. During the festival’s run, there are special-interest short films showing at a dozen or so other venues throughout the city. And as a plus, all screenings are free and open to the public. 
This year, the evening venue is in a slightly different location, pulling up stakes from the central night market and moving further into the heart of the protected Unesco World Heritage Zone, to the courtyard of the Luang Prabang Primary School. It was once attended by Prince Souphanouvong, the first president of the Lao PDR.
“The new location has a great vibe of its own,” says festival director Gabriel Kuperman, the Lao-speaking American expat who founded the fest. “For the serious moviegoers, there will be less distraction now that we are further away from the night market. On the other hand, maybe that means fewer passers-by. But we know our local audience is already quite excited for the upcoming event, so attendance shouldn’t be an issue.”
In a bid to attract those Lao eyes, the main venue is mainly devoted to the newest titles from Laos’ nascent, fast-developing film industry, as well as those Thai box-office blockbusters folks in Laos somehow seem to hear about.
“As always, we’ll focus on the Lao and Thai crowdpleasers at the night venue,” says Kuperman. “These are the films that are most accessible to our local audience, who might find it a challenge to keep up with English subtitles.”
The opener will be the world premiere of “Above It All”, the sophomore feature from Anysay Keola, a Lao director who pushed the envelope of what’s acceptable to Lao censors with his debut, the thriller “At the Horizon”. His second film has two risk-taking stories, in which a closeted gay guy and a young Hmong woman each face decisions over whether to follow their hearts or give in to parental and societal pressures and marry people they don’t love.
Mattie Do, who debuted her slow-burn thriller “Chanthaly” at the fest in 2012, is back with a “work print” of her upcoming sophomore effort “Dearest Sister”.
Thai highlights include the country comedy “Poo Bao Tai Ban: E-san Indy”, which spearheaded a new regional cinema movement in Thailand’s Northeast, and last year’s biggest Thai hit, the romantic comedy “I Fine Thank You Love You”, from the now-broken-up GTH studio. Also likely to click with Lao crowds is “Chiang Khan Story”, which was filmed downstream from Luang Prabang in director Yuthlert Sippapak’s Mekong River hometown.
Aside from those Lao and Thai highlights, there’s the festival’s new “Spotlight” programme, which devotes a full day to Cambodian films on December 7. These will include “The Last Reel”, a drama that reflects on the country’s lost cinematic golden age. It’s Cambodia’s submission to next year’s Academy Awards. Other “Spotlight” entries include the crime yarn “Hanuman”, the theatre-troupe documentary “Still I Strive” and a musical documentary, “The Cambodian Space Project – Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll”. Separately, there’s the Cambodian heist comedy “Gems on the Run”.
Other countries taking part in the LPFF are Indonesia (“The Act of Killing” and “Siti”) Vietnam (“Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere” and “Dandelion”), Malaysia (“The Men Who Save the World”), Singapore (“Slam!”) Myanmar (“The Monk”) and the Philippines (“The Search for Weng Weng” and “Crocodile”).
There will be talks aimed at building up Laos’ film industry. These will include “Encouraging International Production in Laos”, “Women in Film” and “The Producer’s Role”, with veteran Hollywood hand Stephen Lim explaining how “making it their idea” helps get things done.
Aside from the two main festival venues, there will be selections from Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Short Film Festival, the Lao capital’s Mini-Vientianale and the Internet’s Viddsee Shortees screening in the festival’s welcome centre. And several venues around the city are showing their own films, among them photographer-filmmaker Adri Berger, who screens documentaries at his family’s Big Tree Cafe.
This year, the LPFF will be sharing space with two other major events, 20th anniversary celebrations of Luang Prabang’s Unesco World Heritage Site and the Elephant Caravan, which has some 20 pachyderms and artisans sauntering into the city at the end of a 600-kilometre walk to raise awareness about protecting the dwindling wild elephant herd.
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