Somchanrith Chap: Filmmaker Somchanrith Chap’s short film A Fistful of Pebbles picked up first prize at the Chaktomuk Short Film Festival last year and helped him win the New Talent Award at the Cambodia International Film Festival in December. Fresh off a two-year stint as a writer and director with BBC Media Action, the 24-year-old is now focused entirely on his own screenwriting projects. This week, Rith spoke with Audrey Wilson about his inspirations in the local arts scene
I know a lot of young filmmakers here, and they do amazing stuff, like Davy Chou and Kavich Neang. My favourite short film is Davy Chou’s Cambodia 2099. To me, the film is about young people just going through this stage of life where they have to decide what they want. It starts with two friends talking on Koh Pich – one friend says to the other: “I had this weird dream that if I was to wear pajamas and a helmet and dance to a Sinn Sisamouth song, I can travel to the future.” And he did it. That’s nuts. The other side of the story is about his friend having to decide whether to go to the States or stay here with his girlfriend. They want to leave this place because they have no idea what the future holds, but they want to check it out.
Small World, Small Band
During my time working in this field, I’ve met a lot of young people that are passionate about what they do, such as Small World, Small Band. They’re producing their own music and writing amazing songs. Their compositions are amazing because their style is that they mix traditional Khmer instruments with modern instruments. They always have tro (a traditional Cambodian stringed instrument) playing in their songs. It’s a very creative approach to songwriting, and they’re amazing. They’ve worked with Laura Mam. I’m very happy to see there are emerging young voices in this country.
Sambath Chey who directed the BBC Media Action film Down This Road (pictured) won the Young Talent Award last year at the Cambodia International Film Festival. His most recent work is the short film Lakhoun – I was one of the producers. In Khmer, lakhoun is basically traditional theatre. It’s the story of this young guy who accidentally kills his parents during a lakhoun performance – so he leaves his hometown in the countryside to move to Phnom Penh. But when it comes to his parents’ anniversary, he wants to go back and do one last performance to honour them. He says to his grandfather, “I want to do one last pure performance” – no banners, no beers, no girls dancing in between. He sort of wants to revive it – even me, I wasn’t aware that lakhoun is dying, that it’s become corrupted. I think it brings awareness to the fact that some Cambodian arts are dying and nobody cares.
I watch a lot of TV series, but not Cambodian ones. Cambodian TV programs are a bit disappointing – there are no new stories. The first show that I actually liked and got inspired by was the Loy9 show that was produced by BBC Media Action. Back then, I wasn’t a part of it. I have some friends that worked for the BBC here, and they invited me to the premiere. Each project that we get, it’s a different theme. Back then it was about civic engagement. We’ve changed themes over the years, to Love9 (about sexual and reproductive health) and then Klahan9, which is still going on air and is about economic resilience. It’s important, and better than most drama I’ve seen on Cambodian television.
Ian, along with Deependra Gauchan at BBC Media Action, helped me out a lot in terms of scriptwriting: what to do, what approach to take, what kind of stories I want to tell. I would always go to them, hanging out on their balcony with a cigarette, talking about ideas. A Fistful of Pebbles happened to be one of them. Ian, who wrote the film The Last Reel, is an amazing scriptwriter and he loves Cambodia so much – he tells Cambodian stories from his perspective as an expat here, but he incorporates a Cambodian voice into it. One of the good things about Ian – he tells it genuinely, he’s not trying to attract Cambodians, he does it because he loves the story that he’s telling.