C AMBODIA'S rich history of filmmaking is in the doldrums, with only a dedicated
few now prepared to make films for a market stacked against them.
film history can point to not just one, but two "calamities": the Khmer Rouge
regime; then the stormy movement of free marketing just prior to and during the
Only six of the 200 film companies registered with the
Cinema Department in 1989 are still operating. Between 1991 and 1993, 25 of the
30 state cinemas in Phnom Penh closed down. Cinemas boasting daily audiences of
800 could barely attract 30 people when the last Khmer film was shown at the
Phnom Penh cinema. The number of films produced by those companies still
operating have plummeted: 167 in 1990; 110 in 1991; 66 in 1992; 35 in 1993 and
only 31 last year.
That the film industry could survive after the Khmer
Rouge regime - and spring back to its former glory at a terrific rate - is
testimony to the popularity of cinema with Khmers.
But a recipe of woes
since then has seen the film industry bottom out. Its resilience in bouncing
back from total destruction from 1975 to 1979 might not be enough to see it
easily overcome its present troubles - but the show must go on.
directors and producers blame an overwhelming influx of foreign films and
videos, suffocating censorship and lack of encouragement.
chief of the Publication Department, Kong Bunchhoeun, said the government
allowed too many foreign films and videos to come in, and local television
stations hardly ever showed Khmer films.
"Videos are available everywhere
and people have their own TVs, so they don't come to the cinemas. Some TV
stations only play the Chinese videos, as if they were Chinese."
combination of these problems has made it impossible for Khmer films," he
Bunchhoeun, who also owns Chorpoantarangsey Production, also
blamed "too strong censorship" by the department and he believed other companies
faced similar problems.
"If you go around and ask the other companies
they will have the same answer as me," Bunchhoeun said. "But they allow the sexy
(foreign) films to come in."
Chanrith Production director Kung Chanrithy
agreed. "They cut off the good parts we like."
Chanrithy said meager
profits had forced many companies to close. The rental of a cinema - up to $120
a day - "was very expensive, and there is no-one watching anyway."
Cinema Department, under criticism from the industry, says that the quality of
the product is poor.
Muong Sokhan, chief of the Cinema Department's
Technical Audio and Visual Office [TAVO], also said that producers and directors
had little experience.
He said after 1979 people had no televisions, and
Cambodian films were popular "because they had been away from people's sight for
a long time".
"But later the people became fed up with the Khmer films
because they were not so good," Sokhan said.
Before 1975, Khmer films
were popular both here and abroad and won prizes in international film
Sokhan said there were then about 20 film production companies
which produced films carefully and with proper techniques. The writers, camera
men and directors were properly trained locally or overseas, and the ability of
the actors and actresses such as Nop Nem, Kong Samoeun, Chea Yuthan, Dy Saveth
and Kim Nova was high. In the 1960s Khmer movies Pos Keng Kang [Keng Kang
Snake], Twelve Sisters and Orn Eoy Srey Orn each showed for up to six months or
more, drawing up to 700 people a day.
Kong Bunchhoeun, a former deputy
chief of the Cinema Department during the State of Cambodia [SoC] period, said
in the past there were not many imported films and the local industry got good
support from the government.
He said Khmer people only enjoyed themselves
with local films and "even Thai films could not compete with ours."
Khmer Rouge destroyed all entertainment. Most actors, directors, writers and
Bunchhoeun said in 1979 only about five percent of
them survived to come back to their old jobs. Twenty of the 30 cinemas in Phnom
Penh were eventually restored.
From 1979 the film industry grew slowly.
TAVO chief Muong Sokhan said some documentary films were made in the decade to
1989 before the film industry became privatized. Foreign films from Vietnam, the
former Soviet Union, East Germany and Czechoslovakia were common.
documentaries included the popular Rodov Pkar Rich [Flower Blooming Season],
Poeu Chmuos Avey? [What Is Your Name?] and Kampuchea Bey Bok Buon [Kampuchea
Three Plus Four], which won the first prize in an international contest in
Germany. Though locally-made films were scarce, people crowded the cinemas every
Following the government's introduction of a free market economy,
the film industry blossomed.
Sokhan said the incredible level of activity
was because people had not seen Khmer films for so long. But they became wary
after seeing a few.
Neou Sokrin, chief of the Phnom Penh cinema - the
last to run a Khmer film - said between 1989 and 1993 up to 800 people a day
would come. That number had fallen, till in May 1993 only 20 people showed up to
see Neang Khmao [Black Lady]. He said the cinema was then handed back to the
Cinema Department, and Khmer films had since disappeared from its screen.