Luang Prabang Film Festival Set for December

City Is UNESCO Heritage Site -- But Has No Cinemas

HANOI -- The first annual Luang Prabang Film Festival will debut in early December, featuring a week-long slate of Southeast Asian films, festival founder Gabriel Kuperman told The Hollywood Reporter.

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO Heritage Site in Laos, has no permanent cinemas for its population of about 100,000. All 23 films set to be shown during the festival, which runs December 4-11, will be projected on outdoor screens in the city center in a triple-feature format.

Screenings will be free, in order to give them maximum accessibility said Kuperman, who is attending another first-time event, the Vietnam International Film Festival, which closes in Hanoi Thursday evening.

The festival is designed to spark interest in film, especially filmmaking, in the country. "The cinema experience in Laos is buying a pirated DVD," Kuperman said. "The Lao people are active consumers of foreign media, mostly Thai, but they are not producers."

The population of Laos is less than 800,000 people, and only two television stations serve Southeast Asia's only landlocked country. The Lao capital of Vientiane has only a single, commercial cinema with two screens.

Ten out of the 11 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be represented with films at the festival, with Brunei being the only exception.

The Washington, D.C.-native moved to Luang Prabang two years ago, and began working to organize the festival in October 2009. The festival is being produced by Laos' Dept. of Cinema, under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Culture.

After the festival's conclusion, a small number of films will travel to five other provinces in Laos for screenings in rural areas, all projected with screens and equipment supplied by Utah-based Open Air Cinema.