POVERTY PROJECT: Laos Film ‘Rocket’ Soars Everywhere But Home

E.J. DE LARA WRITES – Looks like “The Rocket” didn’t take off, at least not in Laos.

Authorities have banned the distribution and showing of the internationally acclaimed film, which exposes ongoing problems in Laos caused by residual effects of the Vietnam War and government exploitation of the poor.

According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, 270 million cluster bombs were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War 40 years ago, and millions remain undiscovered. Unexploded ordinance is one of the main causes of poverty and lack of land development in rural areas. Australian director Kim Mordaunt captures this, among other issues, in his film.

The Rocket

Set in contemporary Laos, the film centers on a 10-year-old boy, Ahlo, and his family, who are forced to leave their village to make way for construction of a dam. Due to government restrictions and fear of leftover bombs, the family struggles to find a permanent place to restart their lives. Eventually, they settle in another rural village.

The movie follows Ahlo’s efforts to make the best of his situation and work with his family to join a rocket competition. The film’s director, Kim Mordaunt, effectively shows the limitations the boy faces due to lack a of land and resources stemming from the government’s routine exploitation and disregard for the Laotian poor.

With its powerful theme and story, “The Rocket” has received international acclaim, but according to the Otago Daily Times, the Laotian government has banned it domestically, presumably for portraying the harsh realities faced by the poor. With the Vientiane Times reporting on the government’s recent progress in reducing poverty rates, it makes sense for authorities to block a film that portrays the government in a negative light. Media sources such as Radio Free Asia reported last month that the Laotian media has long hidden the repressive and abusive actions of the government toward the poor. Naturally, many citizens are demanding change, or at the very least, the truth.

Mordaunt understands that his film is too political for the government to be shown in Laos, but is proud of its international impact. Whether “The Rocket” fully captures the ongoing problems in Laos or not, the Laotian government is unlikely to allow the film to be publicly shown in any manner for the time being.

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