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The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

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Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

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Lao film industry / Finding its feet on international stage

By: Cristyn Lloyd - Posted on: February 22, 2018 | Culture & Life

Despite working with limited funds, the spectre of state censorship and the difficulty of only having three working cinemas in the country, local directors are creating a thriving film industry in Laos

Anysay Keola (centre) on set. Keola is one of a new breed of directors pushing Lao cinema forward

Mattie Do does not hold back. In her films, the women drink, they wear lingerie, they steal, they murder. In the final moments of Dearest Sister, Do’s 2016 horror, protagonist Nok and her blind cousin Ana are held captive by Ana’s former servants. In a feverish confrontation, Ana charges towards her cousin, knife in hand. The screen goes black. For Do, Laotian girls are not “innocent, mystic lotus blossoms subservient to men… We burned that myth up.”

Shot with an eerie delicacy that forgoes traditional jump-scares, Dearest Sister is less concerned with blood and guts than with telling an authentic story of social class that is causing a stir in conservative Laos.

“It highlighted Laos in probably one of the most raw and truthful ways that anyone has ever seen on screen,” says Do, by all accounts the first and only female film director in the country.

Refusing to fall back on outdated tropes of Asian cinema – depictions of the elite upper class or demeaning poverty porn, according to Do – the film shocked audiences. “It shows a lot of our hierarchy, the way our society is built around materialism… and it showed the way rich people in Laos treat people from lower economic classes and our obsession with trying to climb up to that upper echelon… so we can further the cycle of treating lower class people like slaves. It’s a pretty harsh film actually,” Do says.

The $250,000 production – only the 13th feature film in the country’s history – didn’t just strike a nerve with local audiences, it also became the first movie that Laos has submitted to the Academy Awards.

Prior to 1975, film was virtually non-existent in Laos save for the propaganda produced and screened by the country’s warring royalist and communist camps. And it would be 2008 before the country produced its first independent feature film, Good Morning Luang Prabang. Directed by Sakchai Deenan, it was a deliberately simple romantic comedy that conformed to the government’s censorship policies. At the time, though, it was optimistically touted as the push that the country’s nascent film industry needed. In the end, with funds desperately lacking and the watchful eye of the communist government’s Cinema Department overseeing the industry, things moved slowly.

Laotian director Mattie Do is pushing the boundaries of filmmaking in Laos

Ten years later, a new generation of filmmakers is finally breaking the status quo. Do and Anysay Keola, arguably the two biggest names in Lao cinema, refuse to yield to popular opinion, shying away from the melodramatic style imported from Thailand. Instead, their unique brand of art house cinema pushes the boundaries of state-imposed censorship and generates international headlines in the process.

Nevertheless, Laotian filmmakers are still far from enjoying lavish, Hollywood budgets. “I was the only one who was able to pull off a completely no-budget film at $4,500. It involved my friends working for next to nothing. My dog was a star. We filmed it in our house,” Do says of her debut, Chanthaly, widely touted as the first horror film made in Laos.

Keola’s first film, 2011’s At the Horizon, has a similar story – starting with zero contacts, the young filmmaker recruited his team through YouTube.

Their relative success, however, opened the door to international co-productions – and the larger budgets that come with them. If Dearest  Sister’s $250,000 budget was still staggeringly low by international standards, the extra cash allowed Do to hire a professionally trained crew and technicians, and provided a boost to the film’s production values, from costumes to music.

“Generally, having the budget jump from about $5,000 to $250,000 allowed me to create and complete a film that could match my vision and goal,” she says.

In addition to slowly swelling budgets, Laos’ nascent film industry is gradually being given the space to succeed on its own terms by the relaxation of censorship. Do remembers presenting Dearest Sister to the government’s Cinema Department as a “nerve-racking” experience.

“They watched it and they wrote down all the notes… and they asked me about the things that they didn’t like,” she says. “They asked me to defend myself. And they allowed me to speak and… give the purpose of why I felt it was necessary to have these elements in the film. And they allowed it to be shown in Laos.”

Do describes considerable progress from her first film, in which the censorship board wanted all girls to be wearing traditional clothes, to her most recent, in which a girl appears in bed in her lingerie because she was able to make the point that “that’s what women wear sometimes when they go to bed”.

“I think they are [getting less strict], by far… I definitely murder someone in my film. And that was not OK before. So as long as you can defend yourself, [and] make the purpose known, I believe that our censorship is willing to work with you,” she says.

Keola describes a similar situation with At the Horizon. “The elements of violence [and] the use of language they didn’t like, so they just rejected [it] at the beginning,” he says.

A still from Dearest Sister, Do’s horror movie that had a budget of $250,000 – relatively lavish for the Lao film industry

However, given that the movie doubled as his university thesis, Keola says he was able to convince the authorities to permit him “special conditions” under which the movie could be made but not screened publicly.

Once the film was completed, officials realised that the violence was not central to the film, and so, after a few tweaks, it was approved for public release. Five years later, in 2016, a screening on HBO Asia made it the first Lao film to be shown on a major international TV network.

“[At the Horizon] was a breakthrough… I believe it will also inspire other filmmakers to realise: ‘OK, we can actually do something new,’” Keola says.

Mirroring the industry’s gradual rise over the past decade, the Luang Prabang Film Festival was established in 2009 and has played a major part in championing local cinema. The Unesco World Heritage town has no cinemas – there are just three in the entire country – meaning the festival’s free screenings provide a rare opportunity for Laotians to see films made in Laos.

Founder Gabriel Kuperman feels that, by providing workshops, competitions and other educational activities, the festival is “developing the film industry in the most literal sense by giving [young filmmakers] the skills to be able to be their own media producers… More people are interested in making films than ever before.”

The festival team also put together the selection committee for this year’s groundbreaking Academy Awards submission. “I think it was a terrific step for the Lao film industry and helps [it] to gain more exposure,” says Kuperman. “Everyone who read the articles [detailing] the foreign language recommendations could see: ‘Wow! Laos has a film industry, so let’s check it out.’”

This article was published in the February edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.

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