An extensive water network that spans borders and nation-states, the Mekong River Delta has been a vital life-sustaining resource for its Indigenous populations for centuries. As the world continues to be brought to its knees by climate change, the river is experiencing its own crisis. In recent years, the cumulative ecological effects of sand mining, hydropower projects, and overfishing have yielded prolonged drought and dramatic declines in biodiversity, with fluctuating water levels displacing hundreds of thousands of people. It’s under such conditions that the five filmmakers of MEKONG 2030 speculate the future ten years from now along this shared body of water. Examinations of past and future, these films embody an Indigenous spirit of relating to land and water, one that is at fundamental odds with the ruthless expanse of capitalist modernity.
Opening the anthology in Cambodia, Kulikar Sotho’s Soul River explores the precarity that characterizes the lives of two men affected by the Mekong’s torrential waters. In Laos, a global pandemic tears an impoverished family apart when their mother’s blood becomes a valuable commodity, in Anysay Keola’s The Che Brother. Sai Naw Kham’s The Forgotten Voices begins the anthology’s reinscription of faith onto the Mekong, as a mining project threatens the health of a Burmese village as well as its spiritual relation to the river. Renowned Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s entry, The Line, presents a marked shift away from the realist social dramas of the first half, toward something more abstract and intangible: an art exhibit theorized around animism and the Mekong as ontological subject. Pham Ngoc Lan closes the anthology with the stirring The Unseen River, composed of two simultaneous journeys, upstream and downstream, a dreamlike meditation on temporality and water.