Yesterday, the Kingdom launched its first international film festival. Not long before at Chinese House there was a passionate celebration of the bygone golden age of Cambodian cinema. But there’s a phrase that kept recurring in both – “sustainable film industry”. It troubles me. A sustainable industry for a country that produces just a handful of films a year? Is that a realistic goal?
Perhaps what Cambodia needs is not so much a film industry (an industry which has eluded most countries with a population of less than 200 million), but a vibrant and supported film culture. A film culture where new voices are encouraged, risks are conceived and training is provided for the first tentative steps.
We learn from our mistakes. We don’t ask school children to write novels or paint like Picasso; we ask them to paint a picture or tell a story. We offer encouragement. We know that mistakes will be made along the way. But we appreciate that in the mistakes, the greatest lessons are learned.
Creativity can’t be taught. It can’t be bought. It can only be nurtured. And there is an evident need to nurture a new generation of young Cambodian filmmakers and support them through their first efforts.
Cambodia may buy equipment, train technicians and catalogue its stunning locations for visiting filmmakers. Will that achieve the elusive goal of a sustainable film industry? Personally, I doubt it. There may be some trickle-down skills transfer, lessons learned from visitors to the Kingdom. But one thing is sure – they won’t be Cambodia’s stories.
For that, you need to encourage Cambodia’s storytellers. For the price of one camera you can train a score of writers. You might not succeed immediately, but if you inspire a new generation of visual storytellers to try, the Kingdom will be further down the road to a vibrant film culture.
At the same time, government can’t talk about an industry on one side and then regulate the content on the other. That freedom of expression may result in negative portrayals of the Kingdom. But it will also give a new generation of voices the confidence to try.
Did the Romanian film 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days result in a negative attitude to Romania, or did it make international audiences think instead of Romania as a country with a strong film voice, culturally alive and proud?
Let new voices speak. Let them make mistakes. Let them find their way. Let them be critical, let them be patriotic. But mainly, let them be free to speak.
Otherwise, Cambodian audiences will be left with a decade of NGO-sponsored social realism on their screens and a nostalgic bitterness for a bygone age of film.
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