How, you may ask, could a film shot in south-east Asia, set entirely in Laos and featuring local actors in a local story told entirely in Lao, possibly be considered Australian? Welcome to the world of transnational cinema, my friend, where contemporary Australian filmmakers are increasingly looking to rest of the world not only as locations to send their Australian characters (Wish You Were Here, The Sapphires, Dead Europe), but also as discrete spaces that have a wealth of stories of their own to share (Lore, Ruin)
Thus, The Rocket, although thoroughly Laotian in its narrative and language, is nevertheless brought to our screens courtesy of the Australian film industry. It is the dramatic feature debut of Kim Mordaunt, an actor and filmmaker trained in Australia and the UK, and developed out of experiences on his previous project, the documentary feature Bomb Harvest (2007). That film followed the work of an Australian bomb disposal expert, training local disposal squads in Laos, a country still dealing – decades later – with the aftermath of a proxy ‘secret war’ fought alongside the conflict in Vietnam.
It is a history that simmers ominously below the surface of The Rocket, the gripping, magical and heartwarming story of ten year old Ahlo (played by former street kid Sitthiphon Disamoe), a lone-surviving twin whose displaced family insist has brought them bad luck. Blamed for a series of disasters (including the loss of the family home and destruction of their community at the hands of an Australian corporation), Ahlo must embark on a journey of self-discovery, as their search for a new home culminates with the Rocket Festival, where Ahlo hopes to shake off the curse, help his new friends (nine year old orphan Kia and her James Brown-obsessed uncle Purple), and win back the affections of his family.
Following its UK debut at last year’s London Film Festival, and a series of screenings at other festivals across the country, The Rocket gets a general release in independent cinemas across the UK and Eire from this Friday (March 14) via Eureka Entertainment. Hugely uplifting, this is a truly superlative film entirely worth seeing on the big screen (see below for participating cinemas), but if the film is not showing nearby, you can also catch it from Friday via selected Video on Demand services (including Film4OD and Virgin Movies) or on DVD and Blu-ray from June.