LUANG PRABANG, Laos -- "Fly Sandy Fly," one of the few new films to emerge from Laos in recent times, had its world premiere in a rare setting in December -- a schoolyard in this UNESCO World Heritage-listed town. Children munched on chips and bought balloons as the short movie by Laotian director Phanumad Disattha played for Laotian dignitaries, filmmakers from across Southeast Asia and appreciative locals. Passing tuk-tuk drivers stopped to smoke and soak up the scene.
Despite lacking a single movie theater, Luang Prabang hosted one of the world's most unconventional annual film festivals, projecting films in outdoor venues and hotel halls, until COVID-19 locked down the town in 2020. That made opening night on Dec. 8 all the sweeter. Besides free films for thousands of Laotians it included an impressive program of directors' talks, panel discussions and glitzy parties.