French-Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou’s upcoming feature film Diamond Island is set to be screened at France’s prestigious Cannes film festival in May this year.
The festival announced yesterday that the film had been chosen as part of the competitive program for the La Semaine de la Critique (Critic’s Week), which focuses on discovering new talents.
Prizes include €15,000 (about $17,000) and a distribution grant worth €20,000.
It will be the second Cambodian film to be shown at this year’s festival, with Rithy Panh’s Exil in the official selection’s “special screenings” section.
Diamond Island tells the story of 18-year-old Bora who leaves his village in Kampong Chhnang to work on the construction sites of Koh Pich (Diamond Island) in Phnom Penh where he encounters his estranged older brother who introduces him to the world of Cambodia’s emerging middle-class youth.
“What I wanted while making this film is to tell a story of today in Cambodia, to film modern Cambodian youth from different social classes, and to capture something of the current march to modernisation the country is passing through,” Chou, 32, said. “It’s a very special time in my eyes and there are stories worth telling about it.”
Chou, whose short Cambodia 2099 was screened at Cannes in 2014, said Diamond Island’s selection gave him a “strong feeling of joy” and saw it as a reward for all the time and energy he and his team had put into the film.
“I used to attend the festival in my twenties, as a simple cinephile, watching five films a day,” he said. “Being part of it as a filmmaker one day was surely a dream, but I honestly didn’t really expect it to happen.
“The selection of Cambodia 2099 in 2014 at the Directors Fortnight was a huge surprise, so after you tasted it, you definitely want to come back.”
Shooting on Diamond Island with a French and Cambodian crew of about 40 people only finished in January, so Chou was forced to submit an unfinished version of the film.
“Editing was final, but [we had not finished] sound mixing and colour grading yet,” he said. “So I’m even more glad the film got selected.”
Cambodian Film Commission technical assistance Cedric Eloy said the commission was glad to have two Cambodian films at Cannes this year.
“It’s great to see [a] Cambodian diaspora director shooting in Cambodia and taking films to Cannes,” Eloy said via email.
“CFC has supported Davy Chou’s films [one doco, one short, one feature] since the beginning and we are proud to see that the film is starting a brilliant festival career.
“In the last few years, Cambodian films directed by Cambodian directors have been awarded in Rotterdam IDFA, Busan Film Festival, Tokyo IFF, which shows that even though the core of the film industry of Cambodia is still small, there is enough talent and creativity as well as a favourable environment with support from CFC and Bophana Center which leads Cambodian filmmakers to the highest level.”
Chou – who is also producing another film with his friend Kavich Neang – said he wasn’t sure when Diamond Island would be shown to Cambodian audiences, but hoped the premiere would be at this year’s Cambodia International Film Festival in December.
“Wait and see!” he said.