Filmmaker Rithy Panh plans to set up a film archive and academy to preserve
Cambodian culture and train a new generation of filmmakers.
Panh and crew film Le Théâtre Brûlé.
Panh, who has
had several of his acclaimed features screened at the Cannes Film Festival,
hopes his plan will usher in a new golden age of Cambodian cinema.
[is] important to have a new generation of directors with a new vision on our
country," says Panh. "It will become part of [the] reconstruction of our
While a new crop of promising, locally produced short
documentaries is emerging, most young local filmmakers are yet to move beyond
the production of karaoke clips.
"If everything will be okay [and]
everybody understands the necessity and urgency of this project, [construction
of] the film archive center and film academy will start in May," Panh predicts.
"This project is supported by France, UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture and
Fine Arts (MoCFA). [But] we are looking for other support and partners. We need
help for this project."
Raymond Leos, Dean of Communications and Media
Arts at Pannasastra University, welcomes Panh's plan.
He laments that
there are not more Cambodian films of the caliber made by Panh: "When you see
[Rithy Panh's] films you see a [true] filmmaker at work. He [primarily makes
documentaries but] when he goes into fiction he does remarkable
Panh survived the Khmer Rouge years and fled to Thailand in
1979. He studied in France before returning to Cambodia in 1990.
films include S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003) and The Land of
Wandering Souls (1999).
His most recent project, Le Théâtre Brûlé (The
Burnt Theater), has been described as a story without a story. It was filmed
inside the partially destroyed Preah Suramarit Theater, known informally as the
Tonle Bassac Theater.
The new academy, to be built in Phnom Penh, would
be linked to one or more African film academies run by friends of Panh in the
former French colonies of Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Senegal. It would train
Cambodian filmmakers in production, editing, direction, camera operation and
"We will exchange students, ideas, and probably
filmmaker teachers," says Panh. "We need each other's points of view and
experiences. [As] a first step we will train only directors and technicians for
Panh also plans for a digital film archive center,
developed in partnership with the National Audiovisual Institute in France, to
preserve Cambodian films, videos, photographs and music upon digital
Leos believes further training is essential and says most young
filmmakers do not have an opportunity to study storytelling
"If you drive around Phnom Penh movie theaters, you'll see
some pretty lame ghost stories," Leos says.
He says young filmmakers who
cut their teeth making karaoke clips need training to meet domestic and
international demand for quality Cambodian cinema: "There's no education here,
and when I [say] education, I don't mean how to work a camera. As a consequence,
you have filmmakers there just to make money and follow a formula."
bid to improve the situation, Leos has organized a free filmmaking workshop in
conjunction with staff from Singaporean filmmaker John Pates' Babel Studios as
part of the 2nd annual Cambodian Film Festival on February 12.
to give people voices is to encourage them to make short films. We want to
educate young people how you can make movies [cheaply]. All you need is a video
camera," Leos says.
Sann Thy, 22, and his Babel Studios-trained team have
defied current trends and made a unique music video based on traditional
"smote," a type of chant often sung at Cambodian religious festivals and
The music video and Cambodian documentary filmmaking will be
showcased at the film festival. But Leos says aside from filmmakers trained by
organizations such as Babel Studios and the production units of NGOs, only a few
young filmmakers are making short documentaries.
The Ministry of Culture
and Fine Arts hopes training and an injection of foreign assistance will result
in Cambodian films gracing cinema screens across Asia.
undersecretary of state in charge of the Department of Cinema and Cultural
Diffusion at MoCFA, says more than 50 local films have been released in the past
While the films play well to local audiences, selling Cambodian
films internationally is more difficult. "We cannot compare with foreign
productions ... because we need to learn more about technical [production] and
storytelling," Sokun says. "I hope maybe in the next year we'll have two or
three [locally produced] films we can sell to Asia."
Sokun says the MoCFA
also has hopes of setting up a Faculty of Cinema at the Royal University of Fine
Arts with foreign assistance. MoCFA is planning a film festival to showcase
Cambodian cinema, too, currently slated for June or July.
It is often
suggested the greatest hazard for Cambodian filmmakers is illegal copying, but
Leos says this is only half the problem: "If the stuff is crap, copyright