Palace Byron Bay Cinema
Tuesday August 13, 6.30pm
When film writer/director Kim Mordaunt was presented the best narrative feature award by actor Robert de Niro at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York, it was a proud moment not only for the filmmaker, his producer partner Sylvia Wilczynski and Byron Shire based family, but also for his former students and teachers at Mullumbimby High School. Mordaunt’s first feature, The Rocket, also won the audience award and the best actor award for its young lead actor Sitthiphon Disamoe at Tribeca, where the audience gave it a standing ovation.
The Tribeca Festival jury statement declared The Rocket ‘a spectacular achievement that is powerful and delightful in equal measures. Artfully structured and gorgeously shot, it chronicles the struggles of a displaced family while steering well clear of either sentimentality or despair. Complex in its tone and characterizations, the film takes an unflinching – and edifying – look at the suffering caused both by a legacy of war and the new status quo of economic globalization. And yet, while never losing sight of those grim realities, it also offers us a transcendent tale of hope and perseverance in a world that few Westerners ever have the chance to see … One of the great pleasures this year was the discovery of this young, non-professional actor, who plays his role with an irresistible blend of pluck, stoic determination and vulnerability. Sitthiphon Disamoe carried a big, ambitious production on his small shoulders, with charm and grace to spare.’
And the accolades just keep coming – at this year’s Berlin Film Festival the film won the Crystal Bear for Best Feature (Generation Kplus program), Best First Feature (across all sections of the Festival) and the Amnesty International Film Prize, also judged from all sections of the Festival.
The Rocket has also wowed its hometown crowd, taking out the audience award at this year’s Sydney Film Festival in June. ‘After the successes at Berlin and TriBeca, it’s a great feeling for the film to be embraced by our home town. We make films for an audience, and seeing the Sydney audience so moved and excited by The Rocket as it screened at the State Theatre will live forever in my memory,’ said writer/director Kim Mordaunt.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Mordaunt is such an accomplished filmmaker; his father Richard Mordaunt is also a celebrated filmmaker and young Kim grew up with the smell of celluloid in his nostrils. The family moved to Australia from the UK and settled in Byron shire in 1980, where Kim attended school at Mullumbimby High School while his father was making films. After school Kim did what so many young people do, travelling with his best mate, until his filmmaking ambitions surfaced and he return to school, gaining a film production degree at the University of Technology Sydney) and a diploma in acting from one of the UK’s top drama schools, the (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art).
Kim made his first documentary, 45 Years is Enough, during the fall of the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria, funded by the Soros Foundation (now the Sundance Fund), for Bulgarian TV, then directed and shot long-form documentaries for SBS TV, ABC TV and Discovery Channel. His first drama short Mongrel’s Ghost (15 min) was invited to festivals including Los Angeles, Sydney, Bilbao and Sao Paulo. Next came the one-hour drama for SBS TV, Jammin’ in the Middle E, called ‘priceless’ by Sydney Morning Herald and ‘revealing, delightful, beguiling, brilliant’ by The Australian.
The Rocket follows on from Kim and Sylvia’s highly acclaimed and moving documentary 2007 Bomb Harvest, which explored the consequences of war in Laos as it followed an Australian bomb disposal specialist training locals in the skill of detonating bombs while trying to stop villagers, particularly children, from finding them and using them for scrap metal. The Rocket was filmed on location in Laos and Thailand, and the two sold out Sydney Film Festival screenings were also attended by several excited cast members who had travelled from Laos and Thailand to be at the Festival, as well as a large number of the Australian crew, all joining Kim and Sylvia on stage.
Gripping yet heart-warming, The Rocket is a deeply personal story about the determination of a boy who has the odds stacked against him, set against the epic backdrop of a war-ravaged country on the brink of huge change. Former street kid Sitthiphon Disamoe gives an extraordinary performance as Ahlo – a boy who enters a traditional rocket festival competition to help save his poverty-stricken family. Ten-year-old Ahlo is believed to bring bad luck, and is blamed by his village for a string of disasters. When his family loses their home and are forced to move, Ahlo meets spirited nine-year-old orphan Kia and her eccentric uncle Purple: an ex-soldier with a purple suit, a rice-wine habit and a fetish for James Brown.
Struggling to hang on to his father’s trust, Ahlo leads his family, Purple and Kia through a land scarred by war in search of a new home. In a last plea to try and prove he’s not cursed, Ahlo builds a giant explosive rocket to enter the most lucrative but dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival. As the most bombed country in the world shoots back at the sky, a boy will reach to the heavens for forgiveness.
The Rocket is one of the first feature films for international release set and shot in the intriguing and little-known country of Laos, rarely seen by the outside world since the end of the Vietnam War. With remarkable access to real rituals and festivities in the stunning mountains of Laos, The Rocket is a unique view into a world never seen on film before.
Byron Shire audiences will be able to see this wonderful film, and meet the filmmakers, at a special preview and Q&A screening co-hosted by Screenworks and Palace Byron Bay Cinema on Tuesday August 13 at 6.30 pm. Tickets are $22 or $17 for Screenworks and Movie Club members, and are available now at the cinema or online at www.palacecinemas.com.au.