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Luang Prabang Film Festival: Taking the Show on the Road

By: Nicole Long

This past December, Journeys Within had the pleasure of supporting the Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF) first annual road show. JW supplied the LPFF road show with a private van and driver to transport the project’s representatives to bring four films onto the big screen for the people of Oudomxai, a province in northern Laos.

The LPFF was founded in 2009, bringing films created by Southeast Asians or with a Southeast Asian theme to the locals (and tourists) in Luang Prabang, Laos.  Laos has made very few films over the past few decades and not until 2008 had it even produced an internationally-recognized feature film. Even though the people of Laos are heavy consumers of films from around the region, they have yet to produce much themselves.

The aim of the project is to generate a film industry in Laos, promote and celebrate films produced in the region, and to inspire and educate Lao people on film and its industry.  In addition to showing selected SE Asian films over a four day period in nontraditional venues (Luang Prabang has no functioning cinema), they hold lectures, workshops and special programs throughout the year.  To reach more people beyond Luang Prabang, the LPFF travels to two neighboring provinces with four films from the festival in late December.

This past December was the first time the festival was able to bring the films to towns in Oudomxai and Xieng Khouang (eastern Laos, near Vietnam) provinces. Journeys Within believed in the LPFF mission and helped this project by supplying transport over a four day period. I happened to interview one of the festival’s organizers, Dirk Lloyd, who went and set up the road show in Oudomxai.  Unable to join the group myself for the first LPFF road show, I wanted to know how he felt about how it all went and its success.  Below are some excerpts from our Q & A:

1.   What is your official title for LPFF? 

I was the Assistant Director.

2.  What was your role in the LPFF roadshow? What were the responsibilities that were entailed to make this all happen for the first time (for the LPFF)?

I managed the roadshow but none of it would have been possible without Somboun Keoduangchit, the local official from the Ministry of Information and Culture who facilitated the entire event.  Apart from simple logistics, the bulk of preparation entailed meeting with government officials for each of our stops, and helping them understand exactly what we wanted to do and what we needed from them in order to be able to do it.  Most of them were keen to host such an event, so they granted the necessary permission and assisted us in finding suitable venues for the screenings.

3. What was the goal of this roadshow? 

I suppose the roadshow shared the same goal as the LPFF at large: to promote the regional film industry.  In particular, however, I felt the roadshow reached people who perhaps had a lesser degree of access to international cultural events, due to living in the provinces.  The roadshow events were entirely attended by locals, in contrast to the main festival in Luang Prabang.

4. Why was Oudomxai chosen as a destination for the roadshow?

Oudomxai is one of the most important towns in northwestern Laos, as it lies only 100 kilometers from the Chinese border on the principal highway north from Luang Prabang and forms the most prominent traffic junction.

5. Who went to Oudomxai for LPFF’s first roadshow destination from outside of the destination? Would more (or other) people have made it more helpful to carry out the goal?

The only people who traveled to Oudomxai from outside were Somboun, Blaine Johnson from the Projection Foundation, and I.  It could have been useful to have had another person or two along, but we really didn’t need much more assistance than that.

6. What films were shown? And why? 

We showed At the Horizon (Lao), Lao Wedding (Lao), Queens of Langkasuka (Thai), and Panya Raenu (Thai).  These films were shown because we needed to screen films that would be understandable to the local Lao population who showed up to see the films.  The majority of the films shown in Luang Prabang were foreign films subtitled in English, without a local language option, and therefore inaccessible to a large percentage of the local population.

7. The projector and seats available were smaller than in LP, correct? Was it enough?

All technical equipment was generously provided and operated by Blaine Johnson of the Projection Foundation, and was more than sufficient for the venue.  We had approximately 300 seats available, and on the second night this was insufficient, as a significant number of people ended up standing or watching from their parked motorbikes.

Not enough seating was solved with patrons sitting on their motos

8. Where were the films shown?

The films were shown – appropriately enough – in front of Oudomxai’s old, defunct cinema theater, which now houses the local Ministry of Information and Culture.

9. How did you get word out to the community? Was notice of the showing just the day before or had there been signs up previously? Was this method effective?

This was probably the greatest shortcoming of the undertaking, in that there was virtually no notice given to the community prior to our arrival.  There were, presumably, radio ads that ought to have been aired in advance of the screenings, but apparently they were never prepared or played.  Closer collaboration with the local government officials might have helped this happen.  There is always a certain level of opacity when dealing with provincial bureaucrats, and certainly my own limitations regarding the language barrier didn’t help.  I had to rely on secondhand sources for all information, and in the end the word didn’t get out the way it needed to.  We also had no banners or signs for the event, which we could have hung at the entrances to the venue in the days leading up to the event.  All of these omissions can be easily rectified for future events, and greatly increase the number of people who will show up to see the films.

10. What was the outcome of the showings? Roughly, how many attendees?

The first night was, understandably, sparsely attended, due to the aforementioned lack of notice.  However, word of mouth is apparently a strong tool in Oudomxai, because the next night we had approximately 400 people show up, including an entrepreneurial-minded woman who set up a small vending stand with assorted snacks.

11. What films seemed most popular? 

Although I would dismiss it as Hollywoodesque action/fantasy detritus, Queens of Langkasuka seemed to be the biggest hit.  They all seemed drawn to the action, with the children particularly mesmerized by all the CGI of flying warriors and sea battles.

The kids were transfixed

12. Were there any films that seemed to turn people away? Perhaps you observed that certain times of the showings had more people attending?

I think we could have thrown anything on and the locals still would have stuck around to watch it.  As soon as we fired up the projector and had images showing on that big screen, mobs of people gathered to see what was on.

13. What was a highlight (for you) of the roadshow? Do you believe it was successful in reaching its goal?

The highlight for me was just to see the genuine delight from all of the kids who were most likely seeing a film on the big screen for the first time.  They really were transfixed.  I believe that in spite of limitations the roadshow was a success, and generated a lot of interest from locals who would like to see it continue.

14. Did it seem that people became very interested and expressed excitement for possible roadshow next year? 

Definitely.

15. Any suggestions you think would be helpful for next year’s planning of the event? Do you think it could have been better with more visits to roadshow locations before the showings?

We visited each location once, approximately 2 months prior to the event.  It is possible that a further visit could have helped ensure that adequate advertising and notification was taking place, though I’m not convinced it would be that necessary.  It’s also rather taxing to cover those punishing roads more than once.  I think that the line of communication just needed to be a bit clearer and more consistent.

Perhaps the greatest improvement would just include better support for the events in terms of advertising and promotion before the roadshow occurs.  Better funding would obviously allow more of that to be accomplished, but we also needed to do a better job of thanking and including the sponsors we did have, so that further contributions would be encouraged.  On that note, thank you Nicole and Journeys Within for providing transport for us and all of our equipment to and from Oudomxai!  You were a big part of helping us pull this event off, as was Phu Bia Mining, who funded the roadshow.

Action movie on the big screen was a kid favorite

LPFF is an innovative and exciting project that can help to change the face of film in Laos and produce a new generation of film artists. Please follow this link to discover more about LPFF and how you could help to support their projects. http://luangprabangfilmfestival.org/