Southeast Asia’s groundbreaking Luang Prabang Film Festival, held annually amid the ancient Buddhist temples of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Laos, will hold its first post-COVID edition in December.
The event flipped to a virtual format in 2020 as the pandemic swept the world, but further budget cuts the following year forced a complete cancellation. The festival’s organizers say they struggled to host a physical event this year, but when Laos reopened its borders to tourists in May, they balked at rallying government aid and corporate sponsors.
“When our government partners approached us in May, the day the Laotian borders reopened, the way back to a live event was not clear at all,” said Sean Chadwell, LPFF executive director. “At that time we had an office – just because it is the norm to pay rent here several months in advance. No staff. Nothing on the couch.”
But by early June, commitments from the business partners, the support of the local hospitality community and a dedicated group of volunteers had set the stage for a comeback festival, Caldwell says. “It’s a typical storyline,” he adds, “where you think the good guy is up for the count, but he manages to lift himself back up for the fight.”
The Luang Prabang Film Festival, an event built on goodwill, shows films sourced exclusively from Southeast Asia and all screenings are free and open to the local public. The city of Luang Prabang does not have a cinema that runs regularly, so the festival uses a historic open-air plaza as the main filming location. Past editions have attracted more than a thousand local and interview viewers to nighttime screenings, so the festival is adding a second nighttime venue to offer additional film selections from the region.
This year, LPFF will screen more than 20 Southeast Asian feature films and a program of panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions with visiting filmmakers and industry professionals. The full festival roster will be revealed in October.
Caldwell says the festival plans to build on this year’s recovery edition in 2023 with the resumption of additional industry features. The event previously spearheaded a talent development lab in partnership with the Tribeca Film Institute, providing a vital boost to the longstanding participating Southeast Asian film projects, including the Philippine comedy-drama Leonor Will Never Die (a special jury award winner at Sundance this year) and the Cambodian drama White. Building (a selection from the Venice Film Festival that became Cambodia’s entry for the Oscars).
“We have been quietly working on delivering Labs in 2023,” said Caldwell, adding, “We can’t wait to welcome creative filmmakers back to Luang Prabang.”