PeŇ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian

Documentary Film makers


From Opium To Crysanthemums



I hate dogs
My Dad - The Inspector
Where Lies My Victory?
From Opium To Crysanthemums
Words and Stones Ghaza 2000
Her Armenian Prince
Unsafe Ground
Back To Ararat
Ghaza Ghetto
Image from the film

Year: 2000

"Lao Tong and the Hmong people. Once they where known for cultivating opium. Their stronghold was the "Golden Triangle" in the Thailand, Laos and Burma Borderland. They Were the Hmong and one of their leaders was the charismatic headman Lao Tong."

In 1969 the Swedish filmmaker PeA Holmqvist made a super 8-mm film on Lao Tong the Hmong, in the middle of the Vietnam war. Coming back to South East Asia after 30 years, the film crew found everything very different. In the Thai Mountains, vast chrysanthemum fields are now planted under the supervision of Lao Tong. The old headman had had enough of opium! This film on the Hmong People also describes the Hmong situation in Laos and in the USA.

To capture the past

One thing was certain. I had to go back. The feeling is still there, even after thirty years. I think it changed my life: the Vietnam war was raging an I was a 22-year-old photographer in the fas East, it was 1969, and I met Lao Tong and the Hmong people in Thailand an Laos. Lao Tong was then a charasmatic village chieftan in the village of Maetho in northern Thailand, who fought for his people and culture, he maintained that growing opium poppies was the only way to keep poverty at bay. Lao Tong was an unusual person who turned all reason upside-down. In letters home to my parents I wrote: "What will happen to these Hmong? Will they be scattered, sent to schools and turned into useful farmers, or will they be left in peace?"

So in 1997, almost thirty years and fifty films later, my wife and co-director Suzanne Khardalian and I found the 69-year-old Lao Tong in the mountains of Thailand: my question from 1969 still applied. During my research, prior to the trip, I had only come across literature and articles describing the Hmong peoples' opium production, and so we were not expecting any major change. We ended up, however, in a sea of chrysanthemums and brightly coloured flowers, up in the mountains. The old village headman had had enough of opium and conducted his own revolution! Poverty had been banished , the horses had been replaced with pick-up trucks... here was a story to be told.

During my latest visit to Maetho, I brought a 30-minute video cassette of our footage which was shown at the village cafe. Both Lao Tong and the villagers laughed and cried as it was screened. Afterwards, the old headman said to me: "With this film you have preserved our traditions and our faces for coming generations," that is a fine definition of a documentary film.