After winning the Audience Choice Narrative Feature award at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF) in November, In the Life of Music has followed this up by being selected to represent Cambodia in the International Feature Film Award at the 92nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, in February next year.
The Cambodia Oscar Selection Committee (COSC) on Friday officially announced that the film will head to Hollywood after it received substantial support from the judging committee of famous directors, producers and veteran artists.
Directed by Caylee So and Sok Visal, the 92-minute film explores love, war and a family’s relationship over three generations, depicting the lives of people whose world is inevitably transformed by the emergence of the Khmer Rouge regime.
An important part of In the Life of Music is Champa Battambang, a love song made famous by Sinn Sisamouth, one of Cambodia’s most influential singers in the 1950s until the 1970s.
Sisamouth’s songs are still widely played, especially by middle-aged people fond of the Kingdom’s golden era of music, and continue to be sung or played at almost every wedding reception and all kinds of gatherings across Cambodia.
“Music has always played an important role in Cambodian society. People talk about music being the soul of our people.
“As a film and music producer, I think this film is deeply descriptive of the soul and spirit of the Cambodian people, as well as what we have been through in the past 40 years,” said co-director Sok Visal.
Champa Battambang describes a man who falls in love with a woman in Battambang Province but suffers a broken heart and cannot forget her after he is forced to leave.
The song was the key inspiration for the story that explores the lives of people before and after the civil war – but the film is based on the collective experience of all Cambodians rather than portraying a single life story.
The first of three chapters begins in 1976, a year after the Khmer Rouge took over the country. It is followed by stories from 1986 and then finally from 2006-2007.
“Music crosses barriers, and time. It can transport us and reconnect us.
“I can understand that even some of our second generation might not understand the meaning of Champa Battambang’s lyrics, but they would wish to learn more about the song after they hear the beautiful melody,” said Cambodian-American writer and co-director Caylee So.
“The experiences and our stories in Cambodia should not be limited to the Khmer Rouge killing fields,” she added.
Co-director Visal says the film evokes people’s past experiences as it begins with happiness and hopefulness.
The middle of the story depicts sorrow and sadness, but it ends by recounting the brave struggle of people who vowed to overcome the bitter past and move on, without forgetting what had happened.
“We wish to recognise Cambodia’s past suffering, but we also wanted to show a lot more stories of Cambodia and its people apart from this psychological impact,” said Visal, who proudly recalled his success in brining the film to the 2018 Bangkok Asean Film Festival.
“For Cambodia, there remains a lot of love, a rich culture and an abundance of good music. This film is about the mission to searching for a person’s identity. It also important to portray essential Khmer characteristics.”
In the Life of Music saw off Baok Chambab, a film directed by Manish Sharma about traditional Khmer wrestling, in the second round of voting.
COSC chairperson Mariam Arthur says this year is historic for the committee, as members include the most influential people in the local film industry such as Ly Bun Yim, Dy Saveth, Tep Rindaro, Bou Panha and Eab Cheameng.
“It is an honour for our committee members to take part in the process for this prestigious event. Their expertise in the Khmer film industry makes the members best qualified to choose which film should represent Cambodia.
After premiering at the 2018 Pacific Film Festival in Los Angeles, and its first screening in Phnom Penh in March, In the Life of Music has now been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration in the international category at the Oscars, in which each country can submit one film.
All the films will then be reviewed before a shortlist of 10 is drawn up. Ultimately, five films will be nominated and Academy members will then cast their votes to decide who wins the coveted Oscar.
The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards in 2013.
“We encourage filmmakers to contact us before the post-production of their film, so we can review the requirements with them and help make sure they meet all the Academy qualifications,” COSC chairperson Arthur said.
The Academy Awards are scheduled to be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday February 9, 2020. Audiences in Cambodia can enjoy the live broadcast on Monday morning.