The new anthology will take the audience to what the Mekong looks like in the next decade.
With emerging challenges including climate change being felt in the region, how will the Mekong change over the next decade?
This is the question that some young film makers in the region have been asked to help convey through their artistic film making skills in the new project under the Luang Prabang Film Festival.
Over the past eight years, the LPFF turned Luang Prabang town’s center to a theater at the start of December, with screen rigged on garden lawns within the walls of five-star hotels in the mid of a central market.
But this year, the LPFF, a non-profit cultural organization committed to the celebration of Southeast Asian films, have embarked on the new project, making its first step into the world of film production with its anthology, Mekong 2030, expected to make its way around the film festival circuit next year.
As the event organizer points, this is LPFF’s first foray into film production, though the goal of the project is more pointed than that of standard short films.
The anthology, envisioning the Mekong in 2030, aims to raise awareness of the Mekong River’s environmental degradation, and subsequently catalyze the change necessary for its preservation, whether on the level of discourse or policy.
LPFF enlisted five filmmakers––each of them based out of a Southeast Asian Mekong-region country––to make a short film about what their Mekong might look like in the year 2030.
MEKONG 2030 is supported by a number of charitable foundations, including The Asia Foundation, Oxfam, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which hosted an information summit for the participating filmmakers in March.
The event acted as a springboard for the filmmakers’ scripts, providing them with the research necessary for developing their ideas into stories.
The project challenged each filmmaker to provide actionable solutions to the issues raised in the films. While many of the filmmakers approached this requirement with policy in mind, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s The Line focuses on broadening the parameters of this discussion.
“I hope that this film will challenge the dominant discourse surrounding the Mekong’s ecology, and that is one of empirical sciences. In this film, we will look at the Mekong, and the environmental issues surrounding the Mekong, from the perspective of animistic thought,” said Anocha.
In building off that idea, Paul Charbonneau, The Line’s co-director, said; “Those animistic ideas are important, but if you give them a place, you also bring into the discussion a whole bunch of people who have those ideas. Once you say: ‘Your animistic ideas have a place in this understanding,’ all of their other ideas can also be there.”
Kulikar Sotho, a filmmaker from Cambodia, said the MRC meeting was crucial in allowing her to envision the Mekong’s environmental concerns in a concrete way, thus informing the structure of her script. Once she started shooting, the full urgency of the project’s mission hit her almost immediately.
“I heard about global warming and climate change and stuff like that, but that was just hearing. Being on the shoot myself, on the river, only then did I realise that it’s actually coming toward us,” said Kulikar.
For both Pham Ngoc Lan, MEKONG 2030’s Vietnamese filmmaker, and Sai Naw Kham, MEKONG 2030’s Myanma filmmaker, the power of this project lies in film as its medium of choice. “Film goes directly into your heart. You can put any issue or anything, any story into it, and then present it to an audience,” said Sai.
Last Thursday, a select group of journalists, environmentalists, filmmakers, and NGO workers, gathered at the Bangkok Screening Room for a glimpse into an exciting new film anthology, MEKONG 2030, with the premier planned in December.
As the event showed, the filmmakers were not alone in their faith in art as a conduit for social change: in his opening remarks, Manfred Hornung, the director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Southeast Asian office, said; “One of the ways we convey messages in the area of ecology and social justice is through the arts; I think that’s the most exciting way to do the work.”
Soul River, Kulikar Sotho (Cambodia)
Soul River is a cautionary tale framed as a lighthearted road (or, rather, river) movie. Set in 2030 in a remote northeast region of Cambodia, it urges contemporary audiences to reconsider their attitudes toward environmental degradation and the impact of climate change on the Mekong basin.
The Che Brother, Anysay Keola (Laos)
Xe returns to the nearly deserted Mekong fishing village in which he was raised. There, he intervenes in a dispute between his siblings over the ethics of exploiting their elderly mother’s blood. The blood has become a valuable commodity to a Western corporation that has been developing a cure for a deadly plague outbreak.
The Forgotten Voices of the Mekong, Sai Naw Kham (Myanmar)
This film tells a story of two women fighting to claim their lost spirits’ attachment to the Mekong River, while channeling community resilience toward its protection.
The Line, Anocha Suwichakornpong (Thailand)
As an artist prepares to open a new exhibition focusing on animism and river ecology, the boundaries between the artwork and the world it represents begin to merge into a site where different forms of knowledge converge.
The Unseen River, Pham Ngoc Lân (Vietnam)
This film tells a story about a middle-aged woman traveling upstream to find a lover she hasn’t seen in 30 years, told alongside a story of a young couple traveling downstream to a strange temple in search of a cure for chronic insomnia.
More information on the project can be found at mekong2030.org
Read more: Mekong’s Way