When Anysay Keola was growing up in Laos, there were no movie theaters and people could only watch films on TV. Even now, there are only four cinemas in the whole country – three of them in Vientiane, and one in Pakse: none in Luang Prabang. This context helps us understand why the Luang Prabang Film Festival is so important to so many filmmakers – and audience members. Keola describes the 40 or 50 years up to the 2000s as “the dead period” in Lao filmmaking; a time between the “the golden era of cinema” (in terms of cinema business he’s quick to clarify, not filmmaking) and the opening of the first Lao cinema around 2005. Culturally, the country had started to open from the 1990s, with children like Keola mainly exposed to Thai films, especially Thai horror films, because they could understand the language and the reference points were similar.
In 2008, a Thai/ Lao co-production Sabaidee Luang Prabang was released; “this was like a sparkle for us.” Keola was overseas studying in Australia at the time, but he was “so excited” to see Lao voices in cinema – “I still remember that feeling.” Around the same time, his IT university course required him to complete a special effects assignment and show it to his friends, sparking a love for creating and sharing cinema.
Now, despite challenges such as the limited size of the market and restricted funding options, Keola has made a name for himself as one of Laos’ most accomplished directors. In his words, his films deal with the “life struggles” of ordinary people, often illustrated through science-fiction or magical elements. Growing up, the line between spiritualism and animism was “so blurred”, he says and “the culture may have subconsciously something to do with” these themes often coming up in Southeast Asian films. He explains that the Luang Prabang Film Festival generates a chance, or opportunity, for otherwise unfunded and unheard filmmakers to secure support for their work, to receive technical training, and to have their work be seen and appreciated; “without the Luang Prabang Film Festival, HBO Asia would have never picked up my first film,” he adds “that’s how important it is to me personally.”
Watch Trailers for His Films