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Focusing on a future in film

Focusing on a future in film

It’s not a job for everyone, but an introductory film workshop run by a young French-Cambodian is highlighting the career potential of the medium

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

Davy Chou is trying to open the eyes of students to the possibilities of film.

FRENCH-Cambodian filmaker Davy Chou is a recent and lively addition to the Phnom Penh film scene, where he has made himself known by running a six-month introductory film workshop for a diverse range of Phnom Penh students.

The 25-year-old, whose Cambodian parents moved to France to study in 1973 and never returned, has been teaching 70 students from four schools the basic elements of filmmaking, including  shots, camera angles, scripts and casting.

Students hail from varied backgrounds including street children from Mith Samlanh (Friends International), artists from the Reyum Art School, journalism students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and high school students from Lycee Rene Descartes.

Chou said each group responded very differently to his workshops.

"The Mith Samlanh students have almost no knowledge of film, but they are very creative and artistic, while the journalism students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh are more used to seeing images in national and international news," he said.

The course was designed to wake the students to the possibilities of film and encourage them to see film in a different way, he said.

We can use some artistic film techniques we’ve learnt to make our TV news stories more interesting.

"Some of them will go on to professional training, but my course is just the first stage of opening their eyes."

Chou, the grandson of renowned 1960s Cambodian film producer Van Chann,  plans to be in Cambodia for one year. Besides teaching, he is also working on his own projects, including a feature film and a documentary about what many consider the golden era of Cambodian cinema in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

According to Chou, Cambodian cinema never fully recovered from the Khmer Rouge, not least because there is no longer a market. He laments that  many people still can't afford to go to the cinema, and when they do, they prefer to see slicker foreign films from Thailand or Korea.

However, he says the new lesbian film  Who Am I?, which is garnering much attention, is an optimistic sign of increased vitality in the sector.

During a classroom discussion of the film with Royal University of Phnom Penh students, many professed to believe the rumour that watching the film will turn you gay.

But Poum Seila, a third-year journalism student who attends Chou's class, said the workshops helped him view films more critically, and he is now considering a career in the film industry.

 "I think this course has helped me with my TV reporting because it is useful to know the process of editing,"he said. "Also the contrast of feature films and journalism work is very  good because I think we can use some artistic film techniques we've learnt to make our TV news stories more interesting."

However, he thought it would be necessary for him to study overseas if he hoped to become a filmmaker as the quality of most Cambodian films was so low.

Meas Raksmey, 22, also a third-year journalism student participating in the workshops, said he preferred to watch foreign films as he began noticing more flaws in Cambodian films after he started attending the workshops.

"Before I would just watch films for pleasure, but now I have more critical eyes,"he said. "Now we are trained to go beyond the role of audience."

His key criticism of domestic films was that most relied on basic stereotypes and displayed very little originality. "I think this is because they are limited by small budgets - they cannot think outside the box," he said.

"So there are a lot of copycats in Cambodian cinema, from the past and from other popular films."

The theoretical period of the workshops will conclude this week and casting will begin next week for a feature film that will be shot over May and June. The feature film is an immense project, written in five-minute bits by each of the seven groups.

It will be shot and edited by all of the students, though only street children from Mith Samlanh  will act in the film as Chou said they were "very creative"   and their "minds work very differently to the other students".

Chou, who brought all the equipment used on the course from  France, as well as 300 DVDs, hoped the workshops would continue after his departure, though he said finding equipment and funding could prove difficult.

"I want to show them that movies are not just entertainment ... they're art,"he said.

"And if great movies were made here in the past, it can happen again." 

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