Even though we are street children, we have to keep ourselves precious.
IN recent months, much has been done to celebrate the past of Cambodian cinema through a film festival at Chinese House and a photography exhibition at Sa Sa Gallery. However the present state of the film industry is still very much a work in progress. It may be a while before Cambodian youths take up the camera to shoot feature films, but some of them are getting their start in an unusual place.
Hong Buncheng, Kruy Sengkri, Nheb Channy, South Chiev and Von Rotha, five residents of Aziza’s Place, a grassroots residential and educational NGO serving impoverished Cambodian children, are making movies inspired by their downbeat lives as scrap scavengers in the Stung Meanchey waste dumpsite.
Embarrassment, contempt and arrogance are among the issues that they have been addressing in their creative film class. Von Rotha, a 16-year-old ninth-grader at Tuol Tumpong secondary school, focused his movie on the theme of encouragement, which, he says, is a message that he hopes will reach his classmates.
“At school, some students look down on me,” Von Rotha explained. “They say I stay in NGOs and don’t learn much.” However, in addition to his public school education, he is engaging in more holistic studies at Aziza’s. After leaving his mother in Battambang province to move into the NGO, Von Rotha began studying drawing, dancing and film in addition to his academic schooling.
Von Rotha says he realises that social stratification issues don’t just exist in school between classmate peers, but are a ubiquitous problem thoughout Cambodian society.
Von Rotha knows the feeling of embarrassment well, but says that he has also learned the importance of encouragement while living at Aziza’s Place. He hopes to expose embarrassment and arrogance in society by analysing their impact in his films. Besides helping to encourage the country’s poor and orphaned, Von Rotha also hopes that his movies could help to accelerate the quality and social impact of the film sector in Cambodia.
“Cambodian film stars now don’t even care to read a script before performing,” said Von Rotha. “When they perform, they just listen and speak after the director,” adding that he has heard that Cambodian film- makers produce any story going, regardless of the statement it makes.
Von Rotha always ensures his cast is all on the same page before shooting begins, giving scripts to his actors to practice their lines in advance. His six-minute short, which was screened this weekend at Aziza’s, was about a karate class. He expects his story about the concept of encouragement to take a unique angle on local social issues, encouraging the poor to struggle for better lives, even though they are often embarrassed or looked down upon.
Another young filmmaker on the team, 12-year-old Kruy Sengkri, chose to produce a one-minute reportage film about street children.
“I know there are many street children in our country,” he says, having lived as a scrap scavenger in the Stung Meanchey dump for three years himself before moving into Aziza’s Place. “I want all children to conduct themselves in a respectful way,” he said, explaining that scavenging for scrap still offers more pride than stealing or robbing people.
“Even though we are street children, we have to keep ourselves precious,” Sengkri said.
Ali Robbins, the director of Aziza’s Place, says she admires the five kids, seemingly wise beyond their years, who have found topics, developed their skills and produced a short film after studying for less than a year.
Robbins hopes to help the students find internships at various film companies so that they can begin careers as filmmakers.
If you want to see these future directors’ works, contact Robbins at [email protected].