Brunei enters the picture

The Sultanate’s first feature since 1968 is among the highlights of next month’s Luang Prabang fest

In a historic first, all 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be represented at next month’s Luang Prabang Film Festival.

With all the other Asean countries involved in filmmaking – Laos stepped up production in just the past few years – only Brunei has been left out of the spotlight.

But now the sultanate on the island of Borneo has produced its first feature film since 1968 – “Ada Apa Dengan Rina”, aka “What’s So Special About Rina?”

“This is the first time we have ever been able to showcase films from all of the Asean countries, as Brunei never had anything to submit,” says festival director Gabriel Kuperman.

“Rina”, the first feature in the Brunei Malay dialect, is a romantic comedy about a 30-year-old man named Faisal who is still searching for his true love. Turns out the perfect girl is a work colleague, but winning Rina’s heart won’t be easy.

Featuring an all-Brunei cast and crew, “Ada Apa Dengan Rina” was shown Brunei cinemas in February. It also screened at this year’s Asean International Film Festival and Awards in Kuching, Malaysia, and won a special jury prize.

Directed by Harlif Haji Mohamad and Farid Azlan Ghani, it’s among the highlights of the Luang Prabang Film Festival’s screenings at the Amantaka, a five-star hotel that is back as the festival’s daytime venue.

There were persistant technical problems with the daytime screenings last year, but Kuperman says it’ll be better this year with the movies projected from a file on a hard drive that will be looked after by the festival staff. It should be a vast improvement over the previous unreliable method, which involved a balky DVD player attached to a TV.

What Kuperman is really excited about is the number of filmmakers and celebrities who will be coming to the festival.

“More than half of our feature-length films will have filmmakers in attendance, more than we have ever had,” he says.

Among them will be Thailand’s Chookiat Sakveerakul, who has two films in the fest, the teen comedy “Grean Fictions”, which is showing in the home of the festival’s now-iconic blue plastic chairs – the big outdoor screen in the Handicraft Market. It’s where the popular crowd-pleasing films are shown. Meanwhile, Chookiat’s three-segment family drama “Home”, which covers several thorny topics, will be featured indoors, where the audience is smaller, with around 40 seats.

Joining Chookiat on his Lao sojourn will be his “Love of Siam” star Witwisit hiranyawongkul, who also appears in “Home”, and Kittisak Phatomburana from “Home” and “Grean Fictions”.

Chookiat will take part in “Distribution Methods in Southeast Asia”, talking about getting his films out there with Indonesian director Dwi Sujanti Nugraheni, whose documentary “Denok and Gareng” is featured this year. Others panellists will be Lao director Anysay Keola, Hong Kong film critic Clarence Tsui and Vietnamese producer Tran Thi Bich Ngoc.

Another panel talk will cover a subject that’s near and dear to the hearts of Southeast Asian film folk, “Fund-raising for Low-Budget Filmmaking”, with Thailand’s Nontawat Numbenchapol taking part. His Thai-Cambodian border documentary “Boundary” is another “indoor” movie. Others joining the talk will be Filipino critic Oggs Cruz, Vietnamese director Siu Pham, whose “Here … or There?” is showing, Cambodian producer Fatily Sa and Lao filmmaker Vannapone Sittirath.

And Phil Jablon, the American scholar behind the Southeast Asia Movie Theatre Project, will show his photos and give a talk about the cultural significance of saving what remains of the region’s landmark single-screen cinemas, such as the Scala in Bangkok.

The world premieres of two Lao movies take centrestage at this year’s fest. The boxing drama “Big Heart” directed by Mattiphob Douangmyxay is the opening film. The other is “I Love Savanh” by Bounthong Nhotmanhkong, about a Japanese expat falling for a traditional cloth weaver.

Another intriguing title is “13.00 Sunday”, a Thai-Lao mystery by Bis Srikasem and Pume Peerabun, about a hospital where deaths occur at exactly an hour after noon on Sundays. Not taking any chances, the festival is screening it outdoors at 9pm on a Tuesday.

Thai films are always a big hit with the Luang Prabang crowd. Among them will be the lively comedy-drama “Tang Wong”, which will give folks in the Handicraft Market a chance to laugh at how Bangkok schoolboys can’t master a traditional dance. Director Kongdej jaturanrasamee will be on hand for that, and he’ll take questions after an indoor screening of another of his films, the weird and subversive pyscho-drama “P-047”.

Another Thai pick for the outdoor screen is “Karaoke Girl”, with director Visra Vichet-Vadakan on hand to see the response to her hybrid documentary-drama about a young woman caught up in the seedy (but beautifully filmed) world of Bangkok’s hostess bar scene.

In all, there’s 28 features, screening from 10am indoors and then two outdoor shows each night from 7, along with live performances.

If that’s not enough, the festival’s centre offers dozens upon dozens more films, including a “best of” programme from the Vientianale shorts fest and documentaries from Indonesia’s Chopshots. And nearly a dozen more venues around town are also showing films as a sidebar to the fest.