From its humble beginnings as a celebration of Southeast Asian cinema, the Luang Prabang Film Festival (LPFF) has grown into a well-known and important forum for regional film professionals to network internationally and get their films seen by a larger audience. This year marks the 8th edition of this annual event, which runs from December 8th to the 13th.
Founded in 2009 by American-born Gabriel Kuperman, the LPFF is a not-for-profit project that fosters cross-cultural dialogue within the region and supports the burgeoning film industry in both Laos and the greater ASEAN region. By identifying great curators, with inside understanding of their community’s film scene, LPFF is able to produce a unique programme that ensures the inclusion of the strongest voices from across Southeast Asia. Official selections are made by experts and critics from across Southeast Asia—referred to as ‘Motion Picture Ambassadors’—and the final roster of movies to be screened represents a carefully chosen collection of what they believe to be the finest contemporary films from their respective countries.
As it has the most active film industry of all the Southeast Asian nations, it’s not surprising that Thailand has the most films in this year’s line-up. Among the one dozen films from these shores are such titles as: Bad Genius; By the Time it Gets Dark; Cemetery of Splendour; The Couple; Heart Attack; In My Hometown; The Island Funeral; Legend of the Broken Sword; Railway Sleepers; Snap; and Wandering.
Thailand is also the focus of this year’s ‘Spotlight’ programme, with a full day of programming devoted to screenings and discussion of Thai feature films. Kong Rithdee—LPFF’s Motion Picture Ambassador for Thailand, and a film critic for the Bangkok Post—will act as the programme’s host, leading post-screening Q&As and a public discussion. Among the movies screening in this special programme is the 1954 film Santi-Vina, which was recently restored for a screening at ‘Cannes Classics’ in 2016.
Meanwhile, the other nine ASEAN nations are all present in this year’s festival, even Brunei which is represented by the film Rina 2, a co-production with Laos. At last year’s festival Cambodia made a strong impression—the absolutely riveting documentary Cambodian Son won the ‘Audience Choice Award’—and this year there are three films to look forward to from that nation’s burgeoning film industry. Another growing film industry can be found in The Philippines, which has six titles in competition (the most films in the 2017 line-up, after Thailand).
In addition to the feature film screenings, LPFF will also have four programmes of short films, four public discussion forums, a Talent Lab for Southeast Asian filmmakers led by the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), and a documentary production workshop.
If you’ve never attended the LPFF it is a truly one-of-a-kind event. The fact that all screenings and related activities are free and open to the public makes it a very unique and wonderfully inclusive event. In addition, the presence of the directors, producers, and/or actors at almost every post-film Q&A at the official LPFF day screening venue—located in a traditional raised wooden house on the grounds of the Sofitel Luang Prabang hotel—means you really get to know the back story of each film. Finally, add the that the beauty and laid back ambience of Luang Prabang itself (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and you’ve got the best holiday destination a cinephile could ask for.
For more details on specific screenings, as well as information on how to plan your trip, visit the official website at: www.lpfilmfest.org.
Where to stay
Hotel Sofitel Luang Prabang: This century-old colonial mansion is the official partner hotel of the LPFF, making it ground zero for much of the festival activity. Staying in one of the 25 elegant villa suites—ranging in size from spacious to palatial—means you’ll be close to all the action.
Bellerive Boutique Hotel: With charm to spare, this centrally located riverfront property features three beautifully preserved colonial style houses, offering 13 accommodations in five different room categories. All rooms are furnished in an elegant mix of traditional Lao and contemporary design. Meanwhile, the hotel’s terrace restaurant overlooks the river and makes for an ideal breakfast spot. Highly recommended.
By Bruce Scott