Lao film archivist wins coveted regional award

A senior film archivist, Mr Bounchao Phichit, has won a South East Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA) Fellowship - the first time anyone from Laos has won the award.
The Association selected Mr Bounchao Phichit as one of its three fellows on April 9 at the 22nd SEAPAVAA Conference and General Assembly held in Bangkok, Thailand.

Mr Bounchao Phichit with the trophy.

The fellowship is awarded in recognition of outstanding work in the field of film preservation and the promotion of audiovisual heritage in South East Asia and the Pacific.
This year’s recipients were Mr Bounchao, Mick Newnham from Australia, and Dome Sukvong from Thailand.
Mr Bounchao was unable to travel to Bangkok for the presentation ceremony in April, so the Deputy Director General of the Cinema Department, Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture, Mr Vongchith Phommachack, received the award on his behalf.
The department’s Director General, Mr Vithoune Soundara, later presented the award to Mr Bounchao at an event organised to mark the 38th World Day for Audiovisual Heritage on October 27.
Mr Bounchao said he was proud to have won the award as it was important not just for himself, but also for the country. He hoped he would set a good example to others working in film archiving and preservation.
Mr Vithoune congratulated Mr Bounchao on winning the fellowship and noted that he was the first recipient from Laos.
“Mr Bounchao is an eminently suitable awardee as he has worked on film archives for a long time with great success and has immense experience,” he said.
Mr Bounchao has devoted three decades of his life to archiving films. He is the pioneer, founder and developer of film archiving in Laos. He has preserved historic films and this has helped maintain valuable footage which is Laos’ national heritage and will be of value to future generations and researchers.
Media personnel, educational institutions, researchers, organisations, ministries and others use the material as a source of reference.
Even though Mr Bounchao did not formally study this line of work, it became a passion and he learnt more about it by attending workshops and making trips to other countries.
There were budget constraints and there was little public interest in the preservation of films, but he managed to store valuable footage.
Mr Bounchao collected films from all over Laos. In 1991, he led his colleagues in gathering films from the provinces, organisations and ministries and stored them at the Film Archive Section in Vientiane where he was the head.
Under his leadership, the film storage section improved. He asked the government if they would request a grant from the Vietnamese government, through the Vietnamese Film Institute, to build storage facilities that were of international standard.
This was done and, in 2006, the films in his care were stored and preserved systematically. In addition, a Lao film that was made during the Indochina war and had been kept in Vietnam was brought to the storage facility in Vientiane.
Mr Bounchao pushed for the Neo Lao Hakxat film collection to be nominated as a Memory of the World in the Asia-Pacific Region, and the nomination was achieved in 2014.
He encountered many challenges during the course of his work such as limited public awareness of the need for archiving.
But he managed to convince the government of the need, and got people to understand the importance of documenting the country’s history.
Today, historic footage from the film archives are often used to showcase Laos’ heritage.
Mr Bounchao’s leadership and achievements are lessons that others can learn from.
He has been working in the field of films for over 30 years and has been a producer, scriptwriter and director. One of his successful projects was a film called “Laotian and River” which won prizes in Indonesia in 2009 and in Vietnam in 2014.
He was born on September 10, 1956, in Xay village, Xaysettha district, Attapeu province.
In 1984 he took a course in Photophysics at the Technische Universitat Dresden in Germany.
In 1985, he began working in the laboratory at the Lao film studio as a technician.
In 1988, he was appointed Head of the Film and Video Production Division of the State Cinematographic Company. In 1991, he was appointed Head of the Film Archive Division, which was established after he suggested to the Minister of Culture in 1988 that such a unit be set up.
In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Director of the National Film Archive and Video Centre and in 2000 was promoted to the position of director.
In 2008, he became Director General of the Lao Cinema Department and since 2014 he has been the Director General of Lao National Television.
He is also a member of the Party Organ of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, which is a higher rank than director general. Based on this, he is appointed by the ministry to supervise film-related matters.
Mr Bounchao is a founding member of the South East Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association and was an Executive Council member for two terms.
He played a key role in organising Association conferences in Laos in 2002 and 2014. He wrote an essay on Lao Cinema for the book “Film in Southeast Asia: View from the Region” published by the Association in 2002.
In recognition of his leadership and achievements, the government has awarded him various medals and certificates. And now he has won another accolade by becoming a Fellow of the South East Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association.

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update November 21, 2018)

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