As a documentary filmmaker in the 1990s, Rithy Panh realised the utter lack of audiovisual resources in Cambodia and decided to start an organisation to collect as much of the Kingdom’s audiovisual heritage as possible.
Rithy Panh’s dream of gathering the resources convinced Ieu Pannakar, who was the head of the Department of Cinema within the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts at that time, to jump on board. The two men established the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in December 2006 with the support of the Ministry of Culture and many other institutions.
“Bophana was the name of a young woman detained in S-21 during the Pol Pot Regime,” said Chum Noi, public relations officer for Bophana.
“The centre was given the name Bophana to bear witness to the dignity and courage of this woman.”
Aiming to preserve and present the remaining pictures, movies and songs from the last 150 years of Cambodia’s history, Bophana has around 30 staff members who have helped collect and protect more than 2,000 documents produced by Cambodians and foreigners.
The centre improves the quality of the documents, digitizes them and adds them to its expansive computer database, which is growing bigger by the week.
The overriding purpose of the collection is to provide free access to Cambodians and foreigners who wish to explore the audiovisual memory of Cambodia and learn more about the country’s past glory and terror.
“All the documents can be viewed freely in three main languages: Khmer, English and French. Therefore, people can search for their desired document easily,” said Sim Sok Thida, a research analyst at the Center.
“Bophana has been working collaboratively with other audiovisual archive centers in America, Europe and Asia to gather the remaining Cambodian documents from those countries and get authorization from the owners to present and provide people access to those files,” said Gaetan Crespel, the archive manager at Bophana Center.
He added that the center has also been cooperating with the Cambodian Film Commission in training Cambodian people in film and audio-related technical work to ensure that they are capable of taking care of documents, as well as improving their own ability to produce photos, film and audio files that will ensure that people do not forget what is happening today.
“I often visit the center when I am free from my studies since I can find so many important documents that aren’t available anywhere else,” said Nem Lorn, a student from Human Resource University.
“I can gain priceless knowledge, especially in art, civilization and history. I hope more Cambodian youth spend time here to explore their past.
“I am sure that the center is going to be here for the next 10 or 20 years to serve the public,” said Crespel.
“We still have many more archives that haven’t been digitized and shown to the public yet.”