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Classic cinema: Silver screen legends in town for festival of film heritage

International stars of cinema, from the French actress Catherine Deneuve to the award-winning Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, will open the second annual Memory International Film Heritage Festival this weekend.

The second edition of the festival will open tomorrow at Chaktomuk Theatre under the patronage of King Norodom Sihamoni. It is co-organised by the Bophana Center, the audiovisual resource institute founded by director Rithy Panh, as well as international film preservation bodies the Memory Cinema Association and the Technicolor Foundation.

The festival, which this year’s has the theme “laughter”, will screen 57 classic films and host conferences on topics such as film programming and restoration. Guests of honour include Philippine filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, Deneuve and Chen, whose feature film Ilo Ilo won the Camera d’Or award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

According to co-founder Séverine Wemaere, Memory, which is organised by the Bophana Center, is the first festival in Asia specifically dedicated to film classics made between 1896 and the 1980s. Wemaere, head of the Paris-based Technicolor Foundation, recognised the need for such a festival when working on a project with Bophana.

“We thought that screening a film heritage festival in this country would create an awareness and joy,” she said, adding that such a festival is consistent with efforts made by director and founder of the Bophana Center Rithy Panh.

A still from "Peau D’Ane"
A still from Peau D’Ane, which stars guest of honour Catherine Deneuve. Photo Supplied

The choice of Cambodia as a host for Memory is poignant. The Golden Age of cinema during the 1960s and early 1970s built a strong heritage for the Kingdom’s film industry, but that heritage was destroyed once the Khmer Rouge came to power, and very little of it remains.

An exception is Khmers After Angkor (Orn Euy Srey Orn), a 1971 film by Ly Bun Yim, which will be screened at the festival. Chea Sopheap, deputy director at the Bophana Center, said he was honoured to show such a classic film.

“This is one of the biggest films from the 1970s, and there are only a few left,” he said, adding: “This year’s theme is laughter, and it really is a film that can make people laugh from beginning to end.”

Bun Yim will present the film on June 8.

A less official theme is transmission – of heritage – from generation to generation, culture to culture. In a crucial act of transmission, the composer Him Sophy has trained nine young Cambodian musicians to perform a live soundtrack to the 1924 Russian film The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks by Lev Kulechov. The performance will take place at the closing ceremony on June 8.

Another festival highlight will be the screening of Tender are the Feet, a 1972 Myanmar classic by Maung Wunna that was digitally restored by students of Yangon Film School for the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

To mark the occasion, five of the school’s students will attend the festival, including Wunna’s son.

A still from "Good Morning"
A still from Good Morning, a Japanese film that will be screened at the festival. Photo Supplied

“They unearthed a classic”, Wemaere said. “They don’t usually have much access to film heritage, and we are trying to create a bridge between the past and today.”

Wemaere said that in order for a film industry to develop it must simultaneously look back on the past. “An old film is not a boring film. It’s even an inspiration for others: George Lucas would refer explicitly to Georges Méliès as a source of inspiration.”

In the future, Severine and festival co-founder Gilles Duval hope to restore Cambodian films, but that’s no simple mission.

“To restore a film is to restore a temple in Angkor,” Duval said. “You can have money, but you need to understand how the temple was built.”

Despite previous reports that Deneuve was to star in an upcoming film adaptation of Francois Bizot’s memoir The Gate directed by Panh and Regis Wargnier, the Post has learned that this in fact was misreported. We regret the error.

The Memory International Film Heritage Festival will open on Saturday at Chaktomuk Theatre and will run until June 8. For more information including the programme schedule visit http://memoryfilmfestival.org

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