Cross the Forest of Isolation：
Introduction to Lancang-Mekong Vision 2020 Documentaries
by Hongyu Chen
“Our consciousness is shaped at least as much by how things supposedly look to others, somewhere else in the lifeline of the world, as by how they look here, where we are, now to us. ” —Local Knowledge by Clifford Geertz
In the context of economic and cultural globalization, the relationship between countries or ethnic groups has become increasingly close and complex. However, the global spread of the Covid-19 in 2020 has forced people to be separated, and it also has brought resistance to cross-border cultural exchange. Nevertheless, we still expect and need to hear other people's voices and it seems even more urgent than before. The “Lancang-Mekong Vision” program which founded in 2020 is aimed at making a platform to connect the regional cultural scene of the Lancang-Mekong river basin and its radiation zones among several countries, to make the voice of the local cultural practitioners be conveyed and heard.
The eight creators who participated in the workshop and creative practice of Lancang-Mekong Vision in 2020 are from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and China. They are from diverse cultural backgrounds and carry out pluralistic creative identities and methodologies. Finally, they have created eight documentaries to respond to their social environment, cultural identity, and the current of the times with the theme of “cross-border ethnic groups” and their local experience and interests, based on the particularity of their own national culture or the universality of cross-border cultural experience. They have sincerely analyzed the relationship between the cultural scene and their own individuals. Their works make it possible for us who are facing the current world environment to perceive “how things supposedly look to others, somewhere else in the lifeline of the world” in an intuitive way of documentaries. Below, I will give a brief introduction of these eight documentaries subjectively, and what kind of “local knowledge” they bring will be left to the audience to determine.
Ka Xiong, a photographer, and filmmaker from Luang Prabang, Laos, started to make a documentary named “Grandma’s World” in the framework of the 2020 Lancang-Mekong Vision program, this film is about his grandma's life, hope, and memory, and it showing us a cultural profile of the Mhong community in Northern Laos;
Maer Lanq, an Akha painter from Monsong village, Xi Shuangbanna. Based on his own growth experience to presented his memory of Akha traditional nursery rhymes, children games in the form of animation, and cooperated with the students from Yunnan University of Finance and Economics and Yunnan Arts University to produce this “Memories of childhood”；
Jupiter, a 23-year-old girl from the Shan state of Myanmar, made a deep analysis of her identity, growth path, and family relationship with her self-portrait documentary "But…life goes one" during the second wave of Covide-19 broke out in Myanmar, which also wrote down a footnote of facing darkness and pouring light into this era;
Nontawat, a filmmaker and artist from Thailand, has been focusing on the Shan people who have migrated from Myanmar to work and live in Thailand in the form of feature films, documentaries, and multimedia art in recent years. After visiting several Shan communities in Chiang Mai, Nontawat decided to make the documentary ”the MONKHOOD” about a Shan monk who had lived in Chiang Mai for seven years. The audience will follow Nontawat’s camera to understand this huge but long-term "invisible" group;
“Zomia’s Song” is a review of Thai director Santiphap Inkong Ngam's video footages for more than 20 years. He tried a variety of editing methods, and finally decided to combine the folk music of several ethnic groups in the mountainous areas of northern Thailand during his participation in the “Lancang-Mekong Vision” program. In 2000, Santiphap began to shoot a large number of videos around the narrative of ethnic identity and homeland in the sense of geography and the cultural region "Zomia" since his ethnic background. His video technique wanders between documentary and video art, which is the coincidence of his subjective discourse as a member of a minority and objective discourse as a filmmaker/observer at the same time;
Another filmmaker from Xi Shuangbanna, I Han Phap, made a documentary called “Wife From Laos” about his cousin, Yuan, a young girl married from Laos. A series of dialogues in this documentary reflected the difficulties and hopes of cross-border marriage in the villages of border areas;
“Ah Chi Mu Gua” means “song and dance of goats” in the Lisu language, which originated in the Lancang River basin of Lisu Autonomous County in Weixi, China. The protagonist of the documentary “Inherit the Ah Chi Mu Gua on Wheelchair” is a local group who aims to inherit this kind of folk song and dance. The filmmaker SI K Za himself is also a member of this group. Therefore this documentary brings us a vivid story about the cultural heritage work from an internal perspective;
Another Lisu filmmaker, Zaw Lar, is from Kachin state in Myanmar. “Mountain Farm” is his first documentary and it is highly accomplished with his personal artistic style, thus we could find the divinity in daily life. This documentary records the farming methods under the changes of seasons of Lisu people in the border mountainous areas. It also goes beyond the macroscopic Arcadian narrative to a turn to expresses the filmmaker’s thinking and concern about the fate of individuals.