Sunday, January 17, 2010

Laotian Film Festivals: Films To consider

As student groups and local communities consider programming in their cities for Laotian film festivals, the following films and shorts have been shown in the past around the world and provide a good solution to the famous King of the Hill scenario:

The First and Second International Conference on Lao Studies and the Vientianale Film Festival have all demonstrated this can be accomplished.

As an artist and community organizer, I would request that if you're going to organize such a festival, please don't use pirated copies or excerpts that chop up the artists' visions and message. Be ethical and get permission when possible.

Nerakhoon: The Betrayal by Thavisouk Phrasavath (2008) is currently the leading film communities are showing, and for good reason.

Bua Deng: Red Lotus by Somouk Suthipon (1988) Told from the perspective of Dara Kalaya it was intended to show her life during the 1960s and living through the rise of the Pathet Lao and an exploration of the ideals of what a Lao woman should be.

Luk Isan: Child of the Northeast by Choroen Lampungporn (1991) Based upon the award-winning novel by Khampoun Bounthavee on his childhood during the Depression in the region of Isan.

Bombies by Jack Silberman (2000) From 1964 to 1973 the US secret air war dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on Laos making it the most heavily bombed country in history. Millions of these 'cluster bombs' did not explode when dropped, and still pose a threat nearly 40 years later. You can learn more at Bullfrog Films

Blue Collar And Buddha (1987) is a one-hour documentary discussing vandals and attacks on Lao trying to build a Buddhist temple during the early years of their resettlement. A look at the opinions of townspeople and American officials attitudes towards the Lao and refugees and highlights the differences between refugees and immigrants. You can obtain a copy from Collective Eye

Bomb Harvest by Kim Mordaunt is another documentary on UXO following a bomb removal team in Laos for two months. Australian bomb disposal specialist Laith Stevens has to train a new young big bomb team to deal with bombs left from the US Secret War, all the while local children are out hunting for scrap metal from bombs. This timely story is terrifying, yet filled with eccentric characters and moments of humour, vividly depicting the consequences of war and the incredible bravery of those trying to clear up the mess.

Becoming American (1982) A documentary on the Hmong journey following the life of  Hang Sou, and his family who lived six years in the Thai Namyao refugee camp. Distributed by New Day Films.

The Best Place To Live by Peter O'Neill and Ralph Rugoff (1982) is one of the early documentaries on the lives of Hmong resettling in Rhode Island. There is a sequel that was being made.

The Leaf, Not Yet Falling Vannasone Keodara is a short film at 13 minutes documenting a girl's childhood memories and over two decades of experience living in exile.

Letter Back Home by Nith Lacroix and Sang Thepkaysone (1994) is a 15 minute look at Lao and Cambodian youth in San Fancisco and was originally taken back to Laos to show how refugee youth were really living in the US. It received  Second Prize in the Chicago Asian American Film &Video Contest, and the Best New Vision Documentary Award at the Berkeley Video Festival and was broadcast nationally on PBS. Currently distributed by the Center for Asian American Media.
Death of a Shaman by Richard Hall (2002) follows Fahm Saeyang who takes a look back at her father's unsettled life and death and the heartbreaking path he took from respectability to hopelessness. It examines how a Mien family suffered through a 20 year ordeal of poverty, racism, religions, drugs, jail, and the murder of her sister.

The Split Horn by Taggart Siegel and Jim McSilver (2001) is the story of Hmong shaman Paja Thao and his family in Appleton, Wisconsin. It documents the 17-year journey and a shaman's struggles to maintain his ancient traditions as his children embrace American culture. Presented on PBS by ITVS and NAATA.
Kelly Loves Tony by Spencer Nakasako (1998) Following the life of 17 year old Kelly Saeteurn and her "American dream." as a Iu-Mien refugee. But her dreams exist in sharp contrast to her reality. She's pregnant and her boyfriend Tony is a junior high drop out and ex-con. The film follows two young people struggling to make their relationship work through obstacles like parenthood, gender issues and cultural and educational differences.

From Opium to Chrysanthemums by Pea Holmquist (2001) At the height of the Vietnam War, in 1969, Swedish filmmaker PeÅ Holmquist traveled to South East Asia to make a film on a Hmong village leader named Lao-Tong and the Hmong. This film documents Holmquist's return after 30 years. With new material filmed in Thailand, Laos, and the United States, and incorporating scenes from the 1969 documentary, the film shows how much has changed, and what has happened to the Hmong, both in Thailand and Laos, and in the United States. Distributed by Icarus Films.

The Vientianale Film festival screened:
The Secret of Palm Leaves 
Our Daily Opium
Let the Gibbons Live 
Laos, Land of a Million Elefants (German)
Approach to the Underworld (German) 
and Want to be a Soldier and Land of Freedom by the Lao Cinema Department. 

Unfortunately there aren't any detailed synopsis available for these films but they are possibilities. 

Of course, there are several Hollywood and mainstream films that set in Laos: Air America, Gran Torino, Little Dieter Learns to Fly, Rescue Dawn, Love is Forever and the Chuck Norris film Missing in Action (Not really recommended, as it's only said to be set in Laos and reflects nothing of the country or culture).

Individual film festival organizers may have different ideas about what they would and wouldn't want to program into their schedule, but I hope this list demonstrates that we don't have a shortage of options available to us. Are there any others that should be considered?

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