Century of Smoke

Laosan, a young family man, spends all his time smoking opium. For his community, lost in the heart of the Laotian jungle, opium farming is the only way to survive. But opium is also the poison that puts men to sleep and kills their desires.

  • Nicolas Graux
    After Dawn, Boy With the Devil
  • Nicolas Graux
    After Dawn, Boy With the Devil
  • Julie Freres - Derives
    Castle to Castle, By the Name of Tania, Before We Go, A Summer With Anton, Heroes Without a Face
  • Thomas Schira
    Director of Photography
    After Dawn, Kev, Mitra, Before We Go
  • Lenka Fillnerova
    After Dawn
  • David Vranken
    Sound Editing & Mixing
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Century of Smoke
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Art Documentary, Social Issues
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 12, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    160,000 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Language:
    Chinese, Other
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Visions du Réel
    April 6, 2019
    World Premiere
    International Competition
  • Munich International Documentary Festival
    May 11, 2019
    German Premiere
    Horizons Competition
  • Mostra - São Paulo International Film Festival
    São Paulo
    October 17, 2019
    South American Premiere
    New Directors Competition
  • FICCI - Cartagena Film Festival
    Cartagena de Indias
    March 11, 2020
    Colombian Premiere
    DOCUMINDS Selection
  • Festival Filmer le travail
    February 14, 2020
    "Grand Prize", "Restitution of Contemporary Work" award, "Valorization of Research" award
  • Miradas Doc - International Documentary Festival
    Guía de Isora
    February 1, 2020
    Spanish Premiere
    International Competition
  • Ethnocineca - International Documentary Film Festival Vienna
    May 9, 2020
    Austrian Premiere
    International Competition
  • Sydney World Film Festival
    April 14, 2020
    Australian Premiere
  • Festival international du film de Nancy
    August 29, 2020
  • Escales Documentaires
    La Rochelle
    November 8, 2019
    French Premiere
    International Competition
  • Brussels International Film Festival
    June 26, 2019
    Belgian Premiere
    National Competition
  • Viewpoint Documentary Film Festival
    May 10, 2020
    Official Selection
  • Arthouse Film Festival
    January 7, 2020
    Indian Premiere
    Documentary Selection
  • PriFest - Prishtina International Film Festival
    August 25, 2020
    Kosovo Premiere
    Documentary Film Competition
  • ARKIPEL Jakarta International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival
    November 22, 2020
    Indonesian Premiere
  • FFM29 - 29e Quinzaine du cinéma francophone
    September 28, 2020
    Official Selection
  • Rome Independent Cinema Festival
    October 6, 2020
    Italian Premiere
    Official Selection
  • 3rd UMF Pugnant Film Series
    August 26, 2020
    Greek Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Festival Promenons-nous dans les docs
    October 3, 2020
    Official Selection
  • Beldocs International Documentary Film Festival
    May 8, 2020
    Serbian Premiere
  • Official National Release - Belgium
    September 5, 2019
    Official national release
Distribution Information
  • Dérives
    Country: Belgium
    Rights: All Rights
  • Wallonie Image Production
    Sales Agent
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Nicolas Graux

Nicolas Graux was born in 1988 in Liège, an industrial city in the East of Belgium. In 2012, he graduated from the Institute of Media Arts with a master's degree in fiction filmmaking. Living in Brussels, Nicolas works in the vibrancy of memories and present moments. His narratives and images, lying between documentary and fiction, personal and impersonal, rely on patient immersions in distant territories and with people rarely portrayed in cinema, weaving sensory and poetic film experiences that bring out existential questions. His short films have been selected in international film festivals and exhibitions, such as Premiers Plans d’Angers, Sarajevo, Palm Springs, and have won several awards. His first feature film, Century of Smoke (2019), portraying the life of an opium-dependent community in the remote jungle of Laos, premiered at the 50th Visions du Réel film festival, where it was praised for its exceptional aesthetic control and poignant humanistic vision. Century of Smoke has continued to screen at the 43rd São Paulo’s Mostra and Munich International Documentary Festival, among others, and has won the Grand Prize of “Filmer le Travail” IFF and the Best Documentary Award in Sydney WFF.

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Director Statement

Nadin Mai: There are directors who know from the planning stage how their film would look like. There are others who find the most suitable aesthetics during the actual filming process. How did you approach Century of Smoke?

Nicolas Graux: The process needs to be slow. I may have written pages and pages during the search for funding, but once we are there, all we have left are mere guidelines. We try to be always present and perceptive, and to work in the most suitable way in relation to the individual scenes or shots. We take care of having the point-of-view of the camera, the angle, and the shot distance, in tune with what is filmed, so that something truthful and evocative can arise. It’s very organic, much depends on sheer intuition, and sometimes the aesthetics are dictated by the most down-to-earth reasons. Of course there is a solid base of research and immersion, but the reality we are filming will always remain, at least partly, a mystery. It is like a half-opened door, there will always be something impenetrable. I experienced that very strongly with Century of Smoke. Even though I tried to share their point-of-view and to be on the ‘right side’, there was an abyss that I needed to acknowledge. Working from within that abyss actually becomes a driving force in shaping the film’s aesthetics. What will be inside and outside the frame, where is the off-screen limit? How to transcend the anthropological, descriptive way of depicting reality, through the sensory and the evocative? How to draw a form of narrative in tune with their situation, when the linear, drama-driven schemes don’t apply? I needed to take great care of these questions and work moment by moment. Of course it’s a risky approach, there is no script, so you need to have time on your side and sometimes allow for things to naturally emerge which could seem troubling in regard to my preconceptions, but are in fact more interesting.

Nadin Mai: Century of Smoke allows the viewer to be immersed in the beauty of nature, but also in the daily life of the protagonist, Laosan. This immersion is important, albeit not always easy to achieve. How did you achieve this proximity to the people?

Nicolas Graux: Mutual trust is the most important thing. Without it, there would be no film. It was far from easy to achieve, especially when it comes to the opium itself. Opium addiction is at the heart of the film, but it is only very late through the shooting process that Laosan actually allowed us to film him smoking. Like most of his fellow villagers, Laosan knows that the opium cultivation on which they subsist is illegal and violently repressed by the authorities, and there is a high degree of suspicion regarding any initiative or any person coming from the outside. But more than that, Laosan is extremely lucid about the damages his addiction causes to himself and to his loved ones — which makes him, I think, a truly tragic character. Even though opium-smoking is an integral part of the daily life and often happens in plain sight, there is a deep-rooted sense of shame, which was only possible to surpass by patiently building that mutual trust and strengthening it day after day. It’s work, it’s based on long-term companionship, communication, compassion…