While any number of Western movies makes a joke out of a case of diarrhea, it’s no laughing matter in the developing world, where countless children die from the disease every year. Drinking Safe Water, an animated film by Puy Chhunly, 28, the director of the new animation program at Phare Art School in Battambang province, beat out 65 competitors, including entries from France, Thailand and Vietnam, for the Golden Buffalo award at Cambofest, the national film festival, in June 2007. Phnom Penh Post reporter Mom Kunthear draws on the wisdom of the young cartoonist.
Animator Puy Chhunly, whose film about diarrhea and unsafe drinking water won the Golden Buffalo award at 2007’s Cambofest, now leads an animation program at Battambang province’s Phare Art School.
What is your film about?
Drinking Safe Water is a story about a little boy who drinks swamp water and then, a few days later, he gets diarrhea and becomes ill. His parents pray to the spirits of his grandparents to help him, but it’s no use. One day, a neighbor sees their son has fallen ill and she tells them about the dangers of drinking swamp water. After that, the boy gets better, they drink safe water and they live happily ever after.
What interested you in this issue?
This was a true story that happened to me when I was little. I lived in the countryside and I drank some bad water when I went out to tend the buffalo far from my house. I had no idea what I was doing. After that, I had a bad case of diarrhea. I wanted to tell all children and their parents with this cartoon about the dangers of drinking dirty water. I think this story is important for every family, especially in the countryside.
How long did it take you to make this film?
It was very difficult for me to do this film, and it took a month to complete a three-minute movie with my teacher, because he only had one month to work with. I tried to work non-stop, and sometimes I only slept about two hours a day.
How long have you known how to make animated films?
I started studying drawing at Phare Art School in 1998. In January 2007, a professional animator from France volunteered to come to teach me how to make animated films. At that time, I was the only one there who wanted to study it because I knew how to draw, so it was easy for me to learn. I spent only one month learning about it and I could do it.
Why did you decide to place your film in competition?
I have never thought or dreamed about competition or showing my animation in public. At first, I just wanted to know how to do it. But, when I completed my story, my teacher asked me to take it to competition at Cambofest. I really had no hope of winning because there were a lot of international competitors and their movies were better than mine because they have modern techniques and they were just better than me at animation. But, it was my destiny to win this award, and it has inspired me to continue this work forever.
How did you feel when you won?
At first, I couldn’t believe it, and I still wonder why some of the other competitors didn’t win. I was lucky, and I feel proud that I won this award for my school, my family and especially for Cambodia because I can say that I am probably the first person to win an award for making an animated film in Cambodia.
What will you do next?
After I won, a lot of NGOs and hospitals asked me to do animation for them, and I have already completed two. I am now doing a 12-minute film with support from the Oxfam organization about human trafficking. This film is going to take me about a year-and-a-half to produce because every minute of film takes about six weeks to make. So, it’s hard work, but I like it.
I also want to have my own studio and study more about the technical aspects of animation. I don’t know if I’ll be able to because it’ll cost thousands of dollars and five or six years to study. Right now, I’m teaching animation to seven students at Phare Art School.