Visualize this movie: Set in modern day Vientiane, social status rules your destiny. A poor rural man making meager means as a mechanic collides with a wealthy privileged young man seeking limitless gratification.
Caught up over money, power, and revenge; “At the Horizon” takes a peek inside the many (and sometimes bloody) battles between social classes in Laos. From themes of class warfare to rural comedies, it’s one of many storylines filling up the writers and directors of Lao New Wave Cinema Productions (LNWC); a group of young filmmakers in Laos revolutionizing how we view Lao cinema.
As the first successful thriller from the group, “At the Horizon” screened at the 2011 Luang Prabang Film Festival, 2012 Hua Hin International Film Festival, 2012 Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival and OzAsia Festival in Australia. It has been featured on the radar of many film critics across the international film industry. Could this be the future of what is to come of Laollywood?
As a foreign film fanatic myself, I hope so. After watching some of the group’s recent film trailers, it was refreshing to see the vivid production value and cinematography of their work. It got me beyond excited for the buzz of the clever path the creative group has paved.
I chatted with Anysay Keola, one of the founders of Lao New Wave Cinema Productions on how the group got started, his take on the film industry in Laos, and what modern Lao cinema is all about.
Why did you get into filmmaking? How do you choose what type of films to make?
It started when I was studying in Australia, I got my bachelor’s in multimedia system. There was one assignment that I had to make a short film of, showing off basic visual effects that we learned. The feeling when I watched my own work on screen for the first time impressed me.
After I graduated, I began working as a Multimedia Designer for Environment Operations Center in Bangkok, Thailand for two years. During this time I discovered that I’m not a salary/office type of guy, and my interests at the time were music and making movies. I spent most of my free time taking DJ music courses and filmmaking workshops.
After I considered pros and cons from two different fields, in the end I decided to focus on film-making. With my family’s encouragement, I studied with a Master of Arts in Film, from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.
My favorite genre is thriller (Seven, A History of Violence, Saw I, I Saw the Devil, Old boy). I grew up watching a lot of Thai films, Hollywood movies and lately I discovered how brilliant Korea’s thrillers are. Therefore, my films are a combination of Western and Eastern thrillers. It doesn’t mean I’ll only produce or direct a dark film, it really depends on what inspires me at the time and what message I want to say.
How did Lao New Wave Cinema form? How has it changed the way Lao people think about Lao films?
After I decided to come back and make a feature film in Laos for my thesis project, I began searching for crews (it cost too much to bring crews over from Thailand) by networking on YouTube and Facebook. And it began from there. I found these guys who also share the same mindset and don’t care about money. We share the same goal that it is time to prove Lao can make different movies, and prove we can make good movie as well.
We are young filmmakers who are Lao and some are French; most are freelancers and crews from small production houses. We get together under the condition that nobody gets paid. Among us there are aspiring directors, DPs, writers, sound professionals, gaffer and graphic designer, then we called ourselves Lao New Wave, in order to define that we’re here to change the face of Lao cinema.
So far we slowly built trust for our audience to go back to watch Lao films. Before, many of them were afraid of the movie quality of Lao films, and “At the Horizon” made a different and people starts to appreciate Lao movie.
What was Lao cinema like back then and how do you think it has changed today?
Before Lao New Wave, there were two eras of Lao cinema, before 1975 and after 1975. Before, there were many war and propaganda films made, many commercial theater operated at the time in Laos. After the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no more funding for filmmaking, no more imported movies for screening, therefore Lao cinema quickly faded away for almost one generation. Until 2000s, Lao Art Media was the only company that made Lao movies along side with movies made by the Lao cinema department. The movie in this era are mostly made in melodrama style, similar to Thai soaps, most of the content are propaganda and educational, which failed to catch the attention of the Lao audience, and some quality movies are not 100% Lao made movie (for example, they were co-produced and co-directed with foreign production such as Thailand or Vietnam).
Today, in the digital era, the cost of making movie is much cheaper. Therefore, in 2012, there were six Lao movies made and screened both by Lao and Thai directors (“At the Horizon”, “Chantaly” by Lao Art Media and Chillax Production, “Hak Um Lum” by Lao New Wave Cinema productions, “Big Heart” by independent young film maker, “Red scarf” and “Always on my Mind” by Thai director Sakchai Deenan).
In brief, Lao film-makers are on the rise, however the market size is still the same. The lack of theaters is the main difficulty for the industry, Lao-ITECC cinema in Vientiane screens in 35mm format and DVD format, one theater in Pakse but screens only 35mm format, and another small standalone cinema in Savanhnakhet. The chance for film makers to make money is slim, and so far we have to rely on foreign funding. LNWC productions is going to experiment with DVD and online market in 2013, hopefully, we will be able to earn back budget and continue making movies.
When “At the Horizon”, the first Lao movie thriller came out, what was the overall reaction of moviegoers and critics?
The feedbacks are mostly positives, for people who watched the film. Many of them agree that this is another step up for Lao filmmakers and Lao movies. They also felt the movie reflects social issues and inspire discussion concerning these issues. The movie also surprised many critics after they learned how low the budget is and comparing what we can produce on screen. Only some negative feedback were pre-judged by the violence they’ve seen in the trailers.
Why should the film industry watch Lao films? What makes it popular?
Watching Lao films helps create a Lao movie industry. If the Lao movie industry is established, there’d be more film professions who can make a living and also pay a strong contribution to economic growth in Laos, and create creativity and promote culture for Lao people.
What makes it popular is the entertainment value and production value. We need to have variety of movies, one with expression (art), one with message (commercial-art) and one for mass (mainstream/commercial film).
If you could pick one film director you’d love to work with for your dream film project, who would it be? Why?
David Fincher. He can create tension out of an ordinary scene, working with his perfectionistic style must be challenging.
Do you have a favorite Hollywood film? Why?
Many but if I have to choose one, I would say the first Saw movie. The movie had a strong impact in my mind after the movie was finished. The script is very well written with low budget challenges.
What’s your current film project? And any future film projects?
I’m developing a new script, it will be a co-produced movie between Thai and Lao productions, co-produced by Ananda Evereringham, the super star actor from Thailand, who is Lao-Australian. It’s expected to start production in late 2013.
Where do you see the future of Lao cinema going? Any challenges?
It will slowly grow, compared to our neighborhood countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma) we are so far behind in the movie industry. The challenges is a small market and the authority controls it.
Finally, where can fans find more information about LNWC and your work?
We will have a complete website up and running soon: http://laonewwavecinema.com/. Until then please follow and drop us a message at http://www.youtube.com/laonewwave and http://www.facebook.com/laonewwavecinema. More about our other movies at http://www.facebook.com/atthehorizon and http://www.facebook.com/HukAumLum.