Saturday, June 28, 2014

Nong Hak enters final push to raise $30K as Laos' second horror movie in history

The final push is on as Mattie Do enters the last week for her Indiegogo campaign!

She's raised 60% of her production costs to make the second horror film in Laos' history, but she still needs help getting the word out!

She's getting ready to shoot her second feature film, ນ້ອງຮັກ (Nong Hak), or in English, DEAREST SISTER, this fall on location in Vientiane and out in the jungles in the surrounding province.

Hopefully, she’ll get through this film without any dengue fever outbreaks, unlike her last film.

Nong Hak will be ONLY the 13th Lao feature film ever made. How fitting it should be a horror film. Mattie Do anticipates it will be one of the most ambitious films ever produced in Laos. "Nong Hak is the story of a Lao village girl, whose only chance of escaping indentured poverty is to manipulate her wealthy cousin’s illness into dependence. Oh, and it’s got ghosts, too."

Good enough for me! Let's help her do make it happen!

New Lao Minnesotan book: The Wolf and the Moon and other Lao Folktales

Over at the Lao Assistance Center, executive director Sunny Chanthanouvong and cultural anthropologist David Zander worked together on a new book, "The Wolf and the Moon and other Lao Folktales." The layout, design and production by the students of the Design and Graphics Technologies Department of the Dunwoody College of Technology.

The collection was made possible by a story circle grant from the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota Humanities Center and support from the Lao Assistance Center. The suggested donation is $5 and delivery is currently only available in Minnesota.

 It's divided into four sections: Animal tales; Fairy tales, wisdom & magic; Wisdom stories; and Lao Buddhist principles for living. It also includes background notes on the Lao in Minnesota. Of particular note are folktales from Chanida Phaengdara Potter and her mother featured in the booklet.

Upcoming Lao American book: "The Fighting Winds of Destiny"

Our community can look forward to a debut book from Lao Minnesotan author Anita Nina Teso later this year: "The Fighting Winds of Destiny." Called an "Amazing Story about Tough Times and Inspirations. Based On A Real Life Story."

It is being published by Tate Publishing. More details will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

Poetry World Cup: Laos vs. Lebanon

I have officially been confirmed as the winner in my match in the Poetry World Cup, so Laos now goes on to Round 2, facing Iran on the 4th of July. In the quarter-finals, the winner will face either India or Indonesia, which should make for a spirited match.

In the meantime, a humble tip of the hat to the amazing Wadih Sa’adeh, whose first book came out in 1973. Definitely check out more of his work, including his most recent from 2012, Qull lil’Aber An Ya’oud, Nasiya Huna Zillahu (Tell the Passenger to Come Back, He Forgot his Shadow Here).

I really like his use of imagery and symbolism, and he had some fine lines throughout his poem "Hey Allen Ginsberg, I think that the fan is rotating".

A big thanks to The Missing Slate Magazine for organizing a great way to build a wider readership for international literature and I encourage others to submit their work in the future to them.

The Iranian poem has a wonderful backstory and depth to it, and I encourage you to check out the work of Payam Feili as he finds his audience internationally, even at great risk to himself in Iran.

Monday, June 23, 2014

DEMONSTRA discussed at The Poet's Playlist

A big thanks to Sharon Suzuki-Martinez for inviting me to discuss the musical influences on my latest book DEMONSTRA over at The Poet's Playlist.  Be sure to check out some of the other great poets she's featured on the site, and enjoy a good listen for the afternoon:

You can order a copy of DEMONSTRA from Innsmouth Free Press at:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Poetry World Cup 2014 Begins!

Day 1 of the Poetry World Cup 2014 has begun! The first matchup is Bangladesh and Venezuela:

The winner of each match will be decided by The Missing Slate‘s readers via two polls: one on the magazine’s facebook page and one on the magazine’s website. Each match will run for exactly 24 hours, beginning as close as possible to midday Pakistan time (PKT; GMT+4 hours).

After 24 hours, the results of the two polls will be aggregated. The poem with the most votes will be declared the winner, and will go through to the next round. In the event of a tie, the match will go to a “golden vote”. The poem that receives the first vote after midday PKT will be the winner.

The poets facing each other this time are:

Mir Mahfuz Ali, representing Bangladesh. Born in Dhaka, he left his home country after being shot in the throat by a policeman ‘trying to silence the singing of anthems during a public anti-war demonstration.’ Now based in London, Mir Mahfuz Ali brings ‘the sensuousness of a Bengali tradition to the English language’, and he is a consummate performer of his own work, ‘renowned for his extraordinary voice.’ His poem is "When Bangladesh Floats in a Water-hyacinth"

Rafael Ayala Páez, representing Venezuela. A young poet, his work is already beginning to be noticed around the world. His poems have been translated from Spanish into English, French, German and Hebrew, and we’re presenting his work in Roger Hickin’s English translation. Rafael Ayala Páez draws on a number of traditions, and a ‘spiritual connection to the culture of India’ lies behind poems such as ‘Vaisvanara/Agni’. His poem is "Impressions."

Tomorrow it's Barbados (Esther Phillips) v. USA (Ravi Shankar). We're matching Shankar's "Camp X-Ray" to Phillips' "Canvas." Both touch on the inner and external experience of historical spaces but use very different approaches.

Given the primarily Pakistani readership of Missing Slate, it will be very interesting to see who the voters select in this round. Both poets have a very wide readership so I'd anticipate this match to be fierce.

For our US West Coast voters, it's pretty easy to figure out since we're exactly 12 hours behind Pakistan. Our noon is their midnight, so West Coasters have until midnight to vote in any day's match. Minneapolis has until 2:00 AM, New York has until 3:00 AM. Go, night owls!

Ultimately, I hope for next year we can get even more international representation than just the 32 countries who made it in this year. So, I encourage you to submit to the journal and help get your nation qualified for next year.

The Missing Slate is an arts and literary journal created with intent to uphold free speech irrespective of geography, political or religious affiliations. Their goal is simple: honor talent and incorporate as many styles, opinions and cultures as possible. The magazine is a “borderless” one with a culturally and intellectually diverse team that believes if art can’t be quantified, it can’t be mapped either. The brainchild of Editor-in-Chief Maryam Piracha and Creative Director Moeed Tariq, the story behind their name (a question they’re often asked) arose from the current literary landscape in Pakistan, a country with a rich history but a low tolerance for it. They wanted to publish a magazine that paid tribute to our diversity by opening up their “borders” to include submissions from other countries (and have published work from 27 so far, including Pakistan).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kaiju Shakedown: ThaiWorld

Film Comment recently posted an interesting article, "Kaiju Shakedown" by Grady Hendrix that has some significant implications for Lao and Lao and Lao American film makers as well.

Hendrix suggests that the Thai film industry appears to have entered "a sleepy state of stasis" since the "crashing wave of Thai movies unleashed upon the world back in the early 2000’s." It's easy to see where he's coming from comparing the recent output from Thai cinema compared to classics such as Nang Nak, Tears of the Black Tiger, Ong Bak, Shutter, and many others.

We might well ask where the ambition and innovation has gone. Hendrix suggests "Big-budget action, historical, and fantasy films have been replaced by cheaper horror movies, romances, and comedies aimed at the local audience, and independent cinema keeps getting hobbled by restrictive censorship."

One film that serves as an example of that censorship is Ing K.'s Shakespeare Must Die, an adaptation of Macbeth which the Thai government believed would cause societal disunity.

Thailand is a country that still has lèse majesté laws, so it's easy to see how a Thai interpretation of Shakespeare's works might ruffle feathers. Anti-monarchy overtones, in addition to references to Thai history such as the 1976 student protests in Bangkok were enough to get it blocked by the censorship committee.

The director Ing K. said in one interview "The committee questioned why we wanted to bring back violent pain from the past to make people angry." How far can regional art advance in the world if it cannot take risks to speak not of the past and the future, but what might have been?

When we see a film like Shakespeare Must Die censored, it raises questions about democracy and the true ability of the people to voice and critique constructively. How might democracy move forward and reach its fullest potential?

Ing K. noted that while the board agreed the "film is exempted from the censorship process "because it has been made from events that really happened," the censors have threatened to sue any theatre that releases the film to the public." He also noted that his films were victims of smear campaigns by "international lobbyists who strive to paint them as "royalist propaganda" and even "Ku Klux Klan hate speech"!

This raises fundamental challenges for film-makers and artists across Southeast Asia. How could such censorship not have a chilling effect on the risk and innovation emerging directors might take? What forms of self-censorship will we see emerge, made all of the more tragic because history shows that even with rigorous self-censorship, ultimately an artist can become blacklisted for wholly arbitrary violations, even just using the word "mother" or "sunset," as we saw in Burma.

Looking through Hendrix's list, I feel bad for Nonzee Nimibutr, who's made several interesting Thai films including Nang Nak and Queen of Langkasuka, which, while a flop was at least ambitious. He ran into a tough streak.

I'm not a big fan of Apichatpong Weerasethakul who inflicted Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives on us, but now he's raising the last funds he needs for Cemetery of Kings which threatens to be another slow-burner where we'll be watching paint dry as it tells the story of "a lonesome middle-age housewife who tends a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms, and romance. " As with his Mekong Hotel and his other works, the concepts are promising, but I'm always left cold by his final execution.

Hendrix does a great job catching us up on who to keep an eye out for. Check out the full list at Film Comment.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Imagine! The art of the picturebook at the Columbus Museum of Art

Opening at the Columbus Museum of Art, on June 20th until November 9th, Imagine! explores children’s picturebooks as works of art through examples from the collection of Carol and Guy Wolfenbarger.

The original drawings, paintings, prints, and collages represent books from well-known illustrators including Floyd Cooper, Peter Catalanotto, Will Hillenbrand, E. B. Lewis, Barry Moser, Chris Raschka, Aminah Robinson, Maurice Sendak, and Robert Sabuda (pictured above.)

The work is presented in groupings of Tall Tales (fiction), True Tales (non-fiction), Tales with Tails (stories/art about animals) and Human Tales (stories/art about social interactions and human nature). But how might you have organized such an exhibition?

Kaiju-a-Gogo new target: Vientiane!

The Kaiju-A-Gogo kickstarter is still on and needs help crossing the finishing line! One particular reason I'm excited for this game is that if it gets funded, Vientiane will be one of the official cities you can send your monster rampaging through! How cool is that?

There's a big push on social media today to raise awareness about this fun game that's inspired by such classics as Rampage, Crush Crumble and Chomp! and X-Com.

They're at 44% with less than a week to go now to raise $50K, which I think should be more than doable with a great result at the end.

Among the other cities you can stomp on are Vancouver, Calgary, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Detroit, Toronto, New York, Mexico City, San Jose, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Dakar, Lisbon, Reykjavik, London, Paris, Stockholm, Cairo, Moscow, Rome, Mogadishu, Johannesburg, Bombay, Delhi, Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo (but of course)!

But when was the last chance you could take a giant robot dinosaur or a monstrous plant to attack Vientiane? 

If you back the project at $90 you can even decide one of the landmarks that gets destroyed. If you back the project at just a little under $400, you can even decide another city that can be attacked.

As a quick recap of what giant monsters might see in Vientiane, it is the capital and largest city of Laos, situated on the Mekong River. It was the host to the 25th Southeast Asian Games in 2009, which also marked 50 years of the SEA Games. It has a population of 210,000 living in a space of 1,514 sq miles. 

While there aren't many tall buildings, there are still many interesting sights to take in, including the Buddha Park (Spirit City of Xieng Khuan), That Dam, where an ancient Nak is said to still reside who rises up to defend Vientiane in times of trouble, the Patuxai monument, and That Luang. 

Which ones will make it into the final game? That's still being decided, but you'll know it when you see it!

The Infinite World: Chinese Figure Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (14th-19th centuries)

Up until November 2nd in Minnesota's MIA is "The Infinite World: Chinese Figure Painting of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (14th-19th centuries)"

Drawn from the MIA’s collection of Chinese paintings, this exhibition of 30 hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and album leaves examines figure painting in China.

Some reflect the principles of Zen and the importance of insight and revelation, while others illustrate the Daoist search for personal immortality or Confucian respect for elders and ancestors. What's interesting to the curators from this period is the genre of meiren hua—paintings of beautiful women which were "portraying the insular world of women from elite society or the courtesan class. This was the era of the “elegant gathering,” of salons that gathered like-minded men of letters to share their painting collections, and the salons themselves became artistic subject matter."

The curators note that "by the 19th century, however, a new page had turned, as Chinese painters were increasingly drawn to Western-style painting."

This becomes an interesting issue for many of the Lao painters of today who are training with master artists from around the world, include those from other Asian, European and American traditions. Will they merely strive to continue painting in these models or break free to redefine what Lao art can, or, somehow, can't be?

But I encourage you to look at this exhibit and see for yourself

Japanese water demon "bones" to be displayed

Interestingly, the purported "bones" of a traditional Japanese water demon, the Kappa, are going on display in Japan. Because.

Purportedly, this one had been shot to death in 1818, although the more conventional method was just bowing to the Kappa or distracting it with cucumbers. The Kappa is a nasty piece of work though, sometimes mischievous, but when he's hungry, he's known to eat unfortunate victims by sucking innards and viscera out through the victim's anus. Ouch, and undignified.

Of course, this all also makes me wonder how Lovecraftian mythology regarding the Deep Ones of Innsmouth might get connected, and what a Lao story would involve, but that's something to contemplate another day.

Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World and Colors of Confinement at the Japanese American National Museum

Two exhibits at the Japanese American National Museum are worth visiting if you get a chance. The first is the must-see Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World. 

As the curators point out: "Perseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists, Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, these artists will cover a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing."

The impetus for the exhibition is: "Often copied by practitioners and aficionados in the West without regard to its rich history, symbolism, or tradition, the art form is commonly reduced to a visual or exotic caricature. Conversely, mainstream Japanese culture still dismisses the subject itself as underground, associating it more with some of its clientele than with the artists practicing it. Both of these mindsets ignore the vast artistry and rich history of the practice."

And this in particular captures my attention, and what the parallel counterpart issues would be within the Lao community. As our arts step into the modern world, there are many of us who are working to revive the traditional arts and pass them on to the next generation. If Lao art became deeply popular and imitated, what would such a world look like, but what will we lose as we see non-Lao artists merely copying, rather than contributing to the deeper intentions of the art forms.

I might compare it to concerns regarding traditional Lao weaving, where much of mainstream Lao culture is beginning to dismiss the art and craft of the sinh and other traditional Lao textiles in pursuit of modernity they associate with affluence.

Looking at Perseverance, I also wonder which of our arts we might connect with the underground, the forms we're ignoring because of the "clients" who are its patrons, rather than examining what our artists are doing.

The other key exhibit I would call visitors attention to is Colors of Confinement, which is presenting 18 rare Kodachrome photographs taken by Bill Manbo during his incarceration at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming in 1943 and 1944.

The Japanese American National Museum makes the argument that "It shatters preconceptions about this episode of injustice by showing it to us in vivid and beautiful color," which to me continues our standing conversation: How do we appreciate art addressing tragedy, the aesthetics of the documentary. Much like exhibitions of art and images connected to the Killing Fields of Cambodia, how can we dare to have a conversation like "Is it beautiful?" or "Is it well composed?"

I think back to our work with the Legacies of War exhibition at Intermedia Arts in 2010, and the memories it brought back for those who lived it. The way it reconnected their children to the parents. The conversations it obliged us to have after nearly 40 years. We have to place a value on these moments, but when do we become ready, and how do we display this question?

Colors of Confinement gives us one perspective of how and why we must approach the topic.

You can learn more about these exhibitions and the others by visiting:

Rediscovering Southeast Asia's Lost Movie Houses

Phil Jablon, an American sustainable development researcher and photographer, has spent the past four years attempting to document, and hopefully preserve, as many Southeast Asian standalone cinemas as possible before they’re lost to time.

 He found 15 movie houses in Laos.

Will the Lao communities in Laos and abroad be able to appreciate these parts of their heritage and work to preserve them, or will time move on and these spaces will be turned into strip malls, putt-putt golf courses, beer gardens or an overpriced high-rise?

You can read the full article over at:

It has me wondering what a Lao version of Cinema Paradiso might look like. As director Mattie Do continues to make waves fighting to make a space for Lao horror cinema, and the Luang Prabang Film Festival does its best imitation of The Little Engine That Could, is it possible this whole story could take a different and interestingly unpredictable direction?

I think we can remain optimistic.