Days after the Singapore International Film Festival wrapped its latest edition, Laos’ Luang Prabang Film Festival lit up its projectors this past weekend as the eighth edition (December 8th-13th) kicks off.

Held in the former royal capital city, which has no working cinema, the Luang Prabang Film Festival isn’t about getting the high-profile premieres or red carpet press photo opportunities. It’s organized by a charitable cultural organization that aims to not only promote Southeast Asian cinema, but also to educate Lao people about using cinema as a mean of cultural expression. Screenings of all 32 films in the program, held in outdoor venues at a local market and inside a five-star resort, respectively, are all free and open to the public.

Representing all ten ASEAN countries, the selections are carefully handpicked by a team of curators in the region. This year’s selections include both commercial and arthouse festival favourites, including Myanmar’s Burma Storybook, Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful, Luong Dinh Dung’s Father and Son, Malaysia’s You Mean the World To Me, Singapore’s Unlucky Plaza, and Vietnam’s Fanatic. Representing Laos are Chilasak Saysaith’s The Anniversary, Nicholas Schrunk’s Blood Road, Somphong Phoney’s Khuannang, and Harlif Mohamad’s Rina 2.

“While most festivals are submission-based, we pride ourselves on our unique curating methods,” LPFF founder and director Gabriel Kuperman says, “LPFF has one Motion Picture Ambassador (MPA) in each Southeast Asian country who suggests a selection of the best films from the past few years to our programming committee, which then chooses its favorites from those selections. The MPAs, film critics and filmmakers in their respective countries, provide us with local industry expertise, allowing us to build a program that is faithfully representative of the Southeast Asia region in all its diversity.”

This year’s SPOTLIGHT program focuses on Thailand, with 12 films picked by film critic Kong Rithdee. The selections include hit thriller Bad Genius, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s Heart Attack, Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s Railway Sleepers, and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By The Time It Gets Dark. Rithdee will also host a forum that will provide history and context of Thai cinema today.

22 of the 32 films will have Q&A sessions with filmmakers, who will also attend public discussion sessions. As previous reported, a talent lab for burgeoning filmmakers from the region is also being held concurrently with the festival.