Leading figures from Cambodia’s film industry will pay tribute today to Yvon Hem, one of the country’s most distinguished film-makers, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 75.
Hem, one of the last remaining directors from the “golden age” of Cambodian cinema between 1960 and the early 1970s, played a crucial part in the development of the Cambodian film industry. He also produced the first feature-length film after the Khmer Rouge years, during which soldiers killed his wife and four children.
Contemporary film-makers, as well as members of Hem’s family, will give talks today at Phnom Penh’s Bophana Centre, recalling his life and work.
During the “golden age”, more than 400 films were released. Hem made more than a dozen before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and all artistic work in Cambodia ground to a halt. Nearly all of the stars from the era were killed, and many movies were lost.
Some of Hem’s films can still be found on VHS in the markets of Phnom Penh. The Bophana Centre will screen one every afternoon from August 17 to 24.
Chea Sopheap, a research assistant at the centre, said: “He contributed to the development of the film sector in Cambodia right from the very beginning.
“Moreover, he was friendly and happy to share his experience with the new generation.”
Hem got his start in the movie business as a teenage production assistant on French director Marcel Camus’ L’oiseau de Paradis (Bird of Paradise) in 1963.
The film starred his sister Nary Hem, and the two of them started their own production company with their brother after filming wrapped. Its name was Baksey Thaansuo, Khmer for “bird of paradise”.
Their first feature film was a version of the Reamker, a Cambodian epic poem based on India’s Ramayana epic.
Dr Tilman Baumgärtel, an expert on Southeast Asian cinema from the Department of Media and Communication at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, praised a man who was both brilliant and personable.
“Yvon Hem was among the most technically accomplished film-makers of the Golden Age, and ran his own company.
“While many of his films are clearly influenced by theatre, he was able to come up with some really inspired cinematography and some special effects that impressed the audience. He was also one of the best and most accommodating sources on Cambodian cinema. He came from a upper-class family, and he had a certain sophistication.”
As well as hosting talks tomorrow and screenings next week, the Bophana Centre will exhibit letters from film-makers and stars who worked with Hem, including correspondence with Davy Chou, the French-Cambodian film-maker whose work has been shown at film festivals around the world.
Meta House will screen his 1968 classic Enav and Bospa next Sunday.
Meta House founder Nico Mesterham said: Yvon Hem was one of the most important film-makers in Cambodian history – creative and innovative to the max. Younger generations here must study his work carefully; they can learn a lot from him.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Poppy McPherson at [email protected]