by Shelly Schoeneshoefer
This year was a struggle to take part in the Generation section since, not only was the theater far away, but the festival was having technical difficulties with their new digital film equipment and therefore many of the films weren’t running on time. However, I managed to see two films and one of them, The Rocket, actually took home three prizes.
The Rocket opens with a daring scene of a tribal woman giving birth to a child with the help of her midwife/mother-in-law. First comes the birth of a healthy son, but, then the unthinkable happens, and a still-born one comes as well. To the old midwife this is clearly a bad omen and as she points her finger at the small crying baby, she indicates that twins are bad luck and both should die. But the mother refuses, saying that her new son Alho (Sittiphon Disamae) is good, and from that moment everyone believes her.
He grows into a curious, good-natured and intelligent boy who, like many children, often gets carried away with his ideas. But life seems too idyllic to remain unchanged and, with globalization approaching through the jungles, it doesn’t take long before these beautiful rural mountains of Laos are forced to change. The villagers must move immediately from a primitive, but beautiful, village to a temporary concrete trashy site so that a dam can be built as soon as possible. Lots of promises from politicians and company owners, but, in essence, it reminds us of a universal problem that everyone is facing. During the move, Alho’s mother is killed and he takes the blame due to his ill-fated birth. He soon becomes an outsider in his new surroundings. With the help of two other outsiders, Alho wants to reclaim his family’s position by entering a rocket contest.
The Rocket covers lots of ground, from bat poop in hidden caves to secret U.S. wars to globalization issues, and we mustn’t forget that it is all done in a tongue-and-cheek style and a little help from a James Brown impersonator (Thep Phongan) to save the day.The actors successfully capture the audience’s hearts while the script highlights details of these characters and gives them a universal feeling at the same time.
The inspiration for the film The Rocket was developed at the time that director/screen writer Kim Mordaunt and producer Sylvia Wilczynski were working on a Laos documentary, Bomb Harvest, on the subject of bomb disposal teams who are responsible for cleaning up this region. Bomb Harvest covers U.S. secret warfare which took place with the communist regime in Laos in the 1970s; this film has already won many awards and it looks like The Rocket will shoot off in that same direction.
The film cost two million dollars to make and both Kim Mordaunt and Sylvia Wilczynski are both on the faculty at The Sydney Film School, the alma mater of Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. Mordaunt and Wilczynski had to finish their film in Thailand due to government censorship regulations. Although in the Generation K-plus section, I recommend it for 12 years and older.
The Taiwanese film Touch of the Light is unique in the sense that it is autobiographical. Huang Yu-Siang actually plays himself and shows the rest of the world how difficult it is to cope with a disability, but at the same time to have perseverance to overcome those hardships. Despite Yu-Siang’s blindness, he is gifted in the art of music and can play anything that he hears. In the film he is entering the university as the only disabled student ever to do so. Clearly there are obvious barriers, but the biggest one is his fellow students who don’t want to help or accept him. The film shows a young man who is trying to find his way despite the obvious obstacles, while at the same time trying to achieve independence from his mother in order to find his way in life. This film has won several prizes and has a strong message for those who are facing those same challenges. Huang Yu-Siang is a wonderful example for others, as the only blind person to receive a bachelor degree. He shows us that everyone is capable of achievements if we will only let them try and support them at the same time. It was a shame that he was not available for the press conference Q&A. I would have loved to have met this talented young man. Instead, I was interviewed by Taiwanese television as I came out of the theater which seemed a bit strange to me.