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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New academy aims to boost film industry

New academy aims to boost film industry

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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.

"It

[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

memory."

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

things."

Panh survived the Khmer Rouge years and fled to Thailand in

1979. He studied in France before returning to Cambodia in 1990.

His

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

sound recording.

"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

documentary films."

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

media.

Leos believes further training is essential and says most young

filmmakers do not have an opportunity to study storytelling

techniques.

"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."

In a

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.

"One way

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

funerals.

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.

Som Sukon,

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

year.

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

doesn't matter."

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