The fifth annual Cambodian International Film Festival features the largest-ever selection of films made in Cambodia – both foreign and local productions
Organised by the Cambodian Film Commission and Bophana Centre, this year’s Cambodian International Film Festival will bring 80 films to screens at six venues in the coming week. The big drawcards will be the Cambodian premiere of Kulikar Sotho’s debut film The Last Reel along with the first public screenings of the French-Cambodian production of The Gate, introducing much-hyped new Cambodian actor Phoeung Kompheak, and Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, which documents Cambodia’s “golden age” of rock ‘n’ roll. The program also includes mini-festivals of South Korean cinema, French action flicks, contemporary Southeast Asian films and documentaries. All the films are free entry. For more information: cambodia-iff.com.
THE LAST REEL
A young woman, Sophoun, the rebellious daughter of a hardline army colonel, discovers an old film starring her mother when she was young and beautiful which is missing the final scenes. Sophoun decides to remake the final reel herself in a bid to remind her mother, now traumatised and unwell, of happier times, but in the process unearths some dark family secrets. The winner of the Spirit of Asia Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, The Last Reel is the directorial debut of Kulikar Sotho.
DON’T THINK I’VE FORGOTTEN
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten – a co-production by American documentary maker John Pirozzi and the Documentation Center of Cambodia – lovingly documents Cambodia’s thriving rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1950s to 1970s – often called “The Golden Age” – and profiles the biggest stars of the time, like the crooner Sinn Sisamouth, hard rockers Baksei Chamkrong, the “Golden Voice” Ros Sereysothea and cheeky rebel Yol Aularong. Featuring interviews with surviving musicians, historians and fans, the filmmakers have also included never-before-seen footage of pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodia and vibrant live concert scenes. A hugely entertaining and informative film.
Based on the book of the same name adapted and directed by Oscar-winner Regis Wargnier, The Gate tells the story of how French ethnologist Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1971 and interrogated by the notorious Comrade Duch – who later went on to head Phnom Penh’s infamous S-21 torture and execution centre. Over the course of four months, the two men develop an unusual relationship as they discuss politics, religion, literature and philosophy. Eventually, Bizot convinces Duch that he is not an American CIA agent and becomes the only Westerner to be captured by the Khmer Rouge and escape with his life. Bizot and Duch’s strange connection brings them together twice more: once, in a fictionalised account of the fall of Phnom Penh and then decades later, as Duch is about to face his reckoning at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Directed, shot and edited by Australian filmmaker Owen Beck as part of his research into the representation of masculinity in contemporary Cambodia, Bngvel (Turn) is the story of Phally, a Cambodian man struggling against the odds to be a good husband and father. Never able to provide enough for his card-playing wife, he heads to the big city in search of better employment opportunities, only to find the more he earns, the more he spends. Numbing out with beer and girls, he comes to a point of crisis that shakes him up, and he becomes determined to make amends. The film was shot on location in Phnom Penh and Takeo, and the cast consists entirely of first-time actors.
BONNE NUIT PAPA
In 1965, director Marina Kem’s father left Cambodia to study Mechanical Engineering in the German Democratic Republic. He quickly built a new life in the socialist state and never returned to Cambodia – a decision that spared him from the persecution that obliterated the majority of his country’s intellectual community.
Even after he had married and started a family in his adoptive home, Ottara Kem never spoke about his past. Then on his deathbed he broke his silence, and announced his desire to be buried in Cambodia. In Bonne Nuit Papa, his daughter documents the difficult journey of discovery and reconciliation spawned by this last request, which prompted the director and her mother to travel to Cambodia and discover the family – some living, many more killed under the Khmer Rouge – that her father never spoke of.
(Short films, Cambodia)
Five stories of five different kids by five emerging Cambodian filmmakers come together to create this feature film produced by the collective Kon Khmer Koun Khmer. A Moment by Rithea Phichith, Veasna by Wathanak Han Pros, Pros Thom by Bunhorm Chhorn, Vattanac by Sipheng Lim and Red Ink by Polen Ly.
DOWN THIS ROAD
Originally screened as a mini-series for television as part of BBC Media Action’s Loy9 series, Down This Road follows three former best friends who reunite to take their grandfather’s ashes to his homeland, Kampot, during Pchum Ben. When they get there, they discover clues to treasure he had hidden while he was part of the Khmer Rouge. Through the resulting trials, their friendship is tested to the limits.
THE WHITE SOLDIER
Shot entirely in Cambodia, this film follows the story of two young Frenchmen who voluntarily commit to the First Indochina War but quickly discover that what they have been told by France is challenged by another reality, the desire for independence of the Vietnamese.
STILL I STRIVE
At one orphanage in Phnom Penh, the performing arts are the path to healing and transformation. Featuring an epic battle at the opening, a chase scene through the forest, horror sequences, and melodrama.
Sopheap Chea, deputy director of the Bophana Center
What do you think the selection of Cambodian films this year says about the local film industry?
In 2010, we could hardly find one domestic short film, and there are now several feature films, fully exportable short film programs and documentaries. There is clearly a step-by-step increase in the number and quality of the domestic production that also follows the development of theatres in the country.
How has the festival evolved over the past five years?
Cultural events are challenging to finance in Cambodia, but CIFF has managed to stay free of charge while boosting its audience from 1,000 in the first year to over 11,000 last year. Many young people tell us on Facebook what they have seen, and tastes are very diverse. So CIFF has created film-lovers and has a real effect on diversifying tastes, and therefore the program is rich and eclectic and not strongly themed.
Why did you decide to do sections on South Korean film and French action films?
We have always had a lot of Asian content and focused on several countries in the past, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, as a way to offer our audience a chance to discover what other countries of the region can achieve. Films travel very little from one Asian country to another so there is a need to create regional bridges and festivals have a role to play. French cinema is known in Cambodia for many comedy classics or intimate movies but rarely seen as an industry producing also fast-paced action movies that have a singularity when compared to Hollywood movies. We would like to show this side of French cinema.
There are a few older films in the mix, such as Shiiku, The Catch. Why did you decide to include them?
The Cambodian-produced film has been very rarely exposed, and it is a film that is important for the young Cambodian generation to understand how children were manipulated under the Khmer Rouge. It is also a film full of humanity that fights against any form of xenophobia. So it has been programmed for the younger Cambodians to see the past differently.
INSIDE THE BELLY OF A DRAGON
Inside the Belly of a Dragon follows the remarkable voyage of discovery and recovery for a renowned Irish clown, Hugh W Brown. Arriving in Cambodia broken-hearted and disenchanted with life as a performer, the clown embarks on a journey through the country.
An impressionistic fable by Australian filmmakers Michael Cody & Amiel Courtin-Wilson set in Cambodia, Ruin is the story of two young lovers inexplicably drawn together.
THE STOLEN WARRIORS
This is the story of a spectacular case of robbery that is changing the art world. A temple statue, looted during the chaos of the Cambodian Civil War, turns up in Sotheby’s auction catalogue 40 years later with a price tag of $3 million.
Angkor’s Children is a film about Cambodia’s cultural and artistic renaissance told through the voices of three young Cambodian women who are the first generation after the Khmer Rouge.
An insider’s view of Phnom Penh independent art scene, including one year with Kok Thlok, a shadow puppet troupe, YMR and the birth of the Khmer punk rock scene.
LE GRAND TOUR: CAMBODIA –THAILAND
Follow in the footsteps of kings and explorers of the nineteenth century to discover Cambodia’s heritage.
FROM THE HEART OF BRAHMA (Documentary, US)
The story of Prumsodun Ok, a Cambodian classical dancer who is dedicated to reviving the art form.
VISIONS OF CAMBODIA
Three episodes from the One Dollar series produced by Rithy Panh and directed by Roeun Narith, plus two short documentaries by Vanna Hem.