by writer/director Kim Mordaunt
Ten years ago, when producer Sylvia Wilczynski and I were living and working in Vietnam, we began traveling to Laos and quickly fell in love with this stunning country and the incredible spirit of its people.
To our surprise, this was the most bombed place on the planet: the result of a secret war that most of the world, including Australians and Americans, knew nothing of.
Yet, the country now emanates this great need to find positivity in life, to break cycles of hatred and move forward—to find the fun in life again. There is even a Lao word, “muan,” which means if you can’t find fun in life then it’s not worth living. We found this hugely inspiring at a time when we were surrounded by war and endless cycles of brutal retaliation.
From this came our documentary Bomb Harvest, which Sylvia produced and I shot and directed. The film tells the story of an Australian bomb disposal specialist, and a bunch of Lao kids who were collecting bombs to sell as scrap metal.
To have such intimate and extended time with these children was life changing for us, and we knew the journey and collaboration with the Lao community in Australia and Laos had to continue. Australia’s relationship with Laos and most of Asia is largely built on economic opportunism (as you see in the film) and we knew there was so much more to be learnt and treasured in Laos: ancient mythology, complex folklore, incredible stories of courage and survival from the Secret War. And somehow, from all this adversity, the Lao had found warmth and a tongue of great wit and irony. We collaborated with the Lao community again, in particular Pauline Phoumindr (associate producer on The Rocket) and set about to make a film which would be based in real stories—but would have all the magic and resonance of fable, which the animistic perspective leant itself to. Every situation you see in the film is based on real events and all the characters, even Purple, are based on a real people we met during our long research before making Bomb Harvest.
The Rocket festival was one of the most terrifying and exhilarating real events we had ever been to. The climactic end of the film is a mixture of dramatized and documentary, so what you actually see is, in many ways, the real people of Laos, purging their war history, shooting back to sky trying to turn unspeakable hurt into something resourceful and quite beautiful.
Laos doesn’t yet have a funded and developed film industry, so The Rocket became a brave collaboration between Australia, Laos and Thailand—and the first feature to be shot in Laos and to be widely distributed throughout the world.
We are so excited about the U.S. release in Landmark Theatres. The Rocket has got off to an amazing start in the U.S., with audiences of all ages embracing the film. It has won Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor and the Audience Award at Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and the World Cinema Audience Award at American Film Institute (AFI) Fest in Los Angeles, among many others, and we look forward to sharing what has been an amazing journey with you.