Laos makes its debut on the world screen next year with its first ever submission of a film to The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film category.
A selection committee made up of Lao filmmakers and film industry professionals will decide the nation's submission. The committee includes documentarian Vannaphone Sitthirath, producer and actor Douangmany Soliphanh, director and Lao New Wave Cinema co-founder Anysay Keola, Lao media fixture Somsanouk Mixay, the Lao Department of Cinema’s Deputy Director of the Film Promotion Division, Dethnakhone Luangmovihane, as well as Simmany Keokene, also from the Department of Cinema.
The committee has been facilitated by the team behind Luang Prabang Film Festival which this year will hold its eighth edition from December 8 to 13. The festival has contributed greatly to the recent rise in filmmaking in Laos.
“The filmmaking industry in Laos is still relatively small,” says Bree Fitzgerald, the Luang Prabang Film Festival’s Head of Programming. “However, its recent growth led us to form a selection committee for the Academy’s approval this year. This was something we always dreamed of doing, and now seemed like the right moment for Laos.”
This past year has been big for Lao film. The Luang Prabang Film Festival partnered with HBO to provide the channel with more Southeast Asian content, and as a result the Lao crime thriller “At the Horizon” made it into HBO Asia’s programming at the end of 2016. Directed by selection committee member Anysay Keola, “At the Horizon” is the first Lao film to be picked up by a major network. Keola’s filmmaking collective, Lao New Wave Cinema, has been a major force in the revival of Lao filmmaking since it started in 2011. Lao-American filmmaker Mattie Do’s recent horror flick “Dearest Sister” has also enjoyed great success, appearing in 24 film festivals across the globe.
In spite of this growth, Laos still only has three working cinemas in the country, which is an obstacle for Lao filmmakers in gaining viewership. However, outside of the Luang Prabang Film Festival and the Vientianale – an international festival taking place in the capital – Lao films are finding exposure through online platforms like Viddsee and on the international festival circuit.
This summer, the committee will consider and evaluate all eligible Lao films. Members of the committee will meet in September to decide the country’s submission for the 2018 Oscars, and the submission will be announced in October.