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Interview with the director and founder of Lao New Wave

Anysay Keola

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It might sound weird to talk about a New Wave in Laos, even nonsensical, as there was pretty much nothing there to revolutionize. And yet Anysay Keola is the heart and soul of Lao New Wave. The numbers may be imperceptible, but for the past few years he’s been working on a proper cinematic future. His own future, but also that of a group that wishes to increase the numbers and get out of a dark theater that is currently very dark but not much of a theater. “We have four cinemas in the whole country, which leads to a total of 16,000 tickets sold to a population of 7 million people”, says the director of At the Horizon. “We have to rebuild the culture, obviously, but I do believe the audience is there. We need a new film culture. Take Mattie Do’s latest feature: it was in Venice, but no one has heard of it here. If the government doesn’t care about the film, it won’t reach an audience.”

What’s the relationship with the government like?
“Cinema is the means of communication they pay the most attention to, often via censorship. They’re stricter with domestic films than with international ones.”

Where are the directors headed?
“We’re trying to build the market where we can bring the audience. My latest film is a romantic comedy. I try to read reality and be part of the general movement.”

How do you build the market?
“By encouraging investors, and by reinventing the dormant film culture which does nonetheless exist. Then, step by step, our goal is to make better films: the first result will feed the second. It is vital to make production sustainable; we cannot rely only on international subventions and talk only to other countries. Relationships are important, but the local community is essential. Right now, the filmmaking community consists of roughly ten people: Mattie Do, me, and the Lao New Wave directors.”

Has anything changed since At the Horizon?
“Yes, I do think audiences have come to have faith in national cinema. That film was deliberately influenced by TV tropes and soap operas. Now we’re raising the bar in terms of production. From that standpoint, new technologies have opened lots of doors, and enabled us to access something that would have been far too expensive in the past.”

Have you grown as a director?
“I studied Film in Bangkok and spent 5-6 years developing my new feature film. It’s all driven by passion. I spend most of my time working on commercials, which is my main source of income, and I try to balance passion and work.”

How does Lao New Wave work? 
“We’re very attentive in terms of reaching investors, which is undoubtedly the hardest part of the process. Our standards are not very high, we can work with basic equipment and skeleton crews so we can reach the most remote areas of Laos, but we still need financing for that. At the same time, we try to produce films by younger directors, we do workshops, we take part in competitions. Last fall I was a judge at a TV spot competition, and I noticed an increase in quality. I think 2020 is going to be an interesting year for Laotian filmmaking.” 

What’s the role of an international Festival like Locarno?
“It’s where we can fulfill our potential.”

Are VOD platforms an opportunity or a risk?
“They’re a possibility. Netflix has started to invest in Thailand, and I think that our contents are quite similar, with the language as a bonus. At the moment, though, they’re not interested in us and I doubt they would watch our work. These platforms are popular with audiences, but they’re not recognized by the government. We can watch YouTube, but we can’t start our own channel unless we register it in Thailand. Same for Netflix: we need a credit card or foreign currency.”

Where do you see Laotian cinema in 2030?
“In Thailand (editor’s note: he grins). I hope and believe we can increase our quality, and I wait for our own film culture to bloom, and for that I think the first major step is reaching out to Thailand and making our industry sustainable. Granted, we will not become as big as the Korean film industry, we do know the road is very long. Thailand is a first, vital step, alongside international film festivals.”

A Laotian production with Thai distribution?
“I’m very open to partnerships with Thai filmmakers. I just don’t want to have to depend on them, there should still be a Laotian voice. And I think there are ears that are willing to listen to it.” 

Click here and also read the article about cinema in Laos.


Locarno Film Festival updates on Covid-19

 

Laos is now. One Country, four theaters, a new cinema soul

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