News / Arts & Entertainment

    Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’

    The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries.
    The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries.
    Ray Kouguell

    A story about a young boy overcoming obstacles and family problems is really nothing new, but an Australian movie called The Rocket puts a whole different spin on those ideas.

    A ten-year-old boy in Laos named Ahlo seems to bring bad luck to his family. He is the surviving twin at birth and believed to be cursed according to local tradition, a belief reinforced by his ill-tempered and superstitious grandmother. Life goes on without incident until Ahlo’s family is forced to relocate because of a dam building project that will flood their village. That’s when trouble begins. Ahlo’s mother dies during their move through the countryside to a shanty town after a government promise of a new house, good land, water and electricity. More trouble follows.

    Ahlo befriends Kia, a 9-year-old girl, and her strange uncle named Purple, both considered village outcasts. Purple is an enigmatic yet charismatic dysfunctional man obsessed with the American soul singer James Brown, complete with purple suit and Brown’s hairdo to match. Purple is also a drunk, hooked on rice wine.

    Ahlo ignores his father’s warning to stay away from them. Through their association, Ahlo ends up accidentally causing a series of mishaps including a fire that eventually lead to their banishment. They hitch a dangerous ride out aboard a bomb disposal truck hauling cargo left over from massive American bombing raids during the 1970s.

    The journey takes them to a rocket festival where Ahlo is determined to win the prize that would buy them a new home and end all the misfortune that’s been blamed on his birth. Ahlo’s rocket entry, literally fueled by Purple’s bizarre knowledge of explosives and bat guano, provides a stunning conclusion to their odyssey through the Laotian landscape.

    The Rocket is Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s first feature film after a career in documentaries. VOA’s Ray Kouguell spoke with Mordaunt, based in Sydney, about the two young characters who are the movie’s heart and soul, and how his previous work influenced the decision to choose Laos as the setting.

    Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’
    Q&A with Kim Mordaunt: ‘The Rocket’i
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    MORDAUNT: It was one of those things that took the producer and I to that region ten years ago and we ended up living in Hanoi and working in Vietnam and traveling a lot to Laos. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to make a film. It was more about we lived in the region and then came to make a documentary there which was Bomb Harvest. That really was a reaction to going to the country of Laos and finding out about its history and just going “my God, why don’t we know about this country?” So really it was sort of a reaction to living and working in that region.

    KOUGUELL: During the filming in Laos and Thailand, was one location more difficult than the other?

    MORDAUNT: I’d say definitely Lao. Thailand’s got this really well-oiled film industry and so in terms of bringing on support crew and in terms of getting access to locations [it’s much easier]. Whereas in Laos, because it’s still a Communist country, there’s still censorship, there’s still a lot of red tape. That was very difficult but we did shoot the rocket festival, all that’s shot in Laos. All the landscape you see in the film is Lao.

    KOUGUELL:  What was it like to cast the film and communicate with your cast?

    MORDAUNT:  That’s not easy. It took a long time to cast the film. And first of all, the producer and I did a lot of traveling around both Laos and the Lao-speaking area of Thailand. Then we worked with a casting agent and eventually we found the little girl in a small drama group, a sort of puppet drama group, on the outskirts of Vientiane which is the capital of Laos. I think she just had a very, very strong sense of self.

    And for him, we’ve been looking a very long time and he waltzed through the door with all that attitude and he had been a street kid for a couple of years, so he’d learnt to survive in any way he could. So he was a great little wheeler dealer, a great little talker. Anything he put his hands to, he could sort it out. That aligned really well with the character of Ahlo. I was working through a translator. But then again I’ve also been around the language for a good ten years now. You’re working with play, you’re working with imagination. You’re working very physically. I’m watching their eyes, I’m watching their body language and you’re trying to find truth on all those levels.

    KOUGUELL: The rocket festival is certainly key to the film. Are such rocket festivals common in other Southeast Asian countries?

    MORDAUNT:  You’ve got them in Thailand but it’s the Isaan people in Thailand, many of whom are Lao heritage. But in Thailand, it’s probably more of a formal event. You know, they’re big rockets but it’s often sponsorship. It’s a little bit more formal whereas in Laos it’s still very wild west and you get many more rocket festivals in Laos. They happen all around the country at the end of dry season for the calling of the rain.

    KOUGUELL: In addition to the fascinating narrative you put together in the movie, would you say there’s really some underlying message?

    MORDAUNT: Thematically it’s about, I guess, first world countries recognizing the impact they have on third world countries, not only in war but in industry and then on a very personal level. I think the main message is that there’s this country with incredible courage. I think the people of Laos are very courageous, and very spirited people who have suffered greatly but who are trying to survive. And it is an underdog story which is something I think we recognize all around the world.

    KOUGUELL: There is much to savor in The Rocket more than just the unusual location and story. There are great performances from Sitthiphon Disamoe as Ahlo,  a marginalized twin who seeks redemption, Loungnam Kaosainam as Kia, the young girl who effectively portrays a sweet fearlessness of her own, and Thep Phongnam as the crazy Uncle Purple whose absurdities are a perfect match for all the indignities surrounding them. Director Kim Mordaunt shows a great eye for telling their story about tradition, pain, and optimism in a world rarely seen. The Rocket is well worth the ride.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

     

     

     

     

    Blogs

    African Music Treasures