In the [film] you’re a bit sad – and this is a sad colour,” film stylist and set designer Silvia De Britto says to actress Dy Saveth, as she picks out a teal shirt from Saveth’s real-life shirt collection.
De Britto is choosing clothes from Saveth’s Phnom Penh apartment during pre-production for The Last Reel – a new film to begin shooting this week in Battambang, by first-time director Kulikar Sotho.
A modern intergenerational drama, the film mines the legacy of the “Golden Age of Cinema” – the period of the 1960s and early ’70s when Cambodian cinema enjoyed immense popular and creative success across Southeast Asia – and stars 69-year-old Saveth, one of the few artists of the period still alive.
“She’s probably the most prominent person associated with that time,” the film’s producer, Nick Ray, says. “The fact she was the right age and is a good actor is kind of perfect. The part was almost made for her.”
Other actors, including the role of Saveth’s onscreen daughter, who discovers her mother was a famous actress in the ’60s, and characters in the film’s fictional Golden-Era film-within-the-film, were found by local audition agents, whose brief was “to find the undiscovered gems.”
Written by British writer Ian Masters, formerly a scriptwriter at Cambodia’s BBC Media Action, The Last Reel was initially to be made as a flagship launch for a new film and media school in Siem Reap, says Ray.
When the school didn’t get off the ground, Kulikar and Ray’s production company, Hanuman Films, took over the project.
“It’s not going to glorify the Golden Era; the backdrop is a lot of family conflict. It’s really nice to tell the story of three eras: the 1960s Sihanouk era, the Khmer Rouge and contemporary [times],” Ray says.
Tapping into the resurgence of interest in ’60s and ’70s cinema and music, The Last Reel comes on the coattails of documentaries Golden Slumbers, French-Cambodian director Davy Chou’s yearning investigation into the era’s surviving performers, and the long-awaited upcoming rock ‘n’ roll documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, by John Pirozzi.
In addition, the film will be scored by Dengue Fever members Paul Smith and Chhom Nimol, whose ’60s-inspired psychedelic pop has won Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea a new cross-border legion of fans.
With nine Cambodia-related film credits to their production company, Kulikar and Ray are collaborating with a number of former film colleagues, including Australian line producer Michael Cody, with whom they worked on the critically acclaimed Wish You Were Here. Australian and German colleagues will apply to their respective film bodies for funding, Ray says.
“Kulikar and I are interested in having a Cambodian identity” for the film, he says, which has roughly been budgeted at $350,000 and is expected to finish filming in April or May, with a tentative completion date set for July. Filming for the trailer is being held in Siem Reap.
For Saveth, the film comes as a welcome change from recent roles – The Last Reel role is the closest she’s played to her real life, she says.
“[Kulikar] thought of me because the story was about an actor and the cinema before the war... Since 1993, when I came back to my country [after fleeing to France], this is the first time the story is different.”