Designer dresses up domestic film industry

Designer dresses up domestic film industry

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One of the Kingdom's few professional movie costume designers, Srey Mom Sieng is also a pioneer for independent and entrepreneurial Cambodian women

TRACEY SHELTON

Srey Mom Sieng costumes the actors in Cambodian film and television productions and operates a fashion boutique in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork market.

SREY Mom Sieng is an integral member of the Khmer Mekong Films production team and one of the few professional film and television costume designers in Cambodia.

"I design costumes for both men and women. I read the script first and have to imagine what all the characters would look like," she said, adding that she has just finished working on a Khmer Mekong Films project for the BBC called Palace of Dreams, an educational drama about HIV and family life.

"Typically I make costumes for actors playing everyday people as well as brides, policemen, doctors and monks," she said. "I often have to hire consultants to ensure that the costumes I create are true to life."

The most unusual costume she said she has ever made was a beggar's costume. "It was difficult because the actor didn't want to be a beggar," she said, laughing. "Another was a man who had just fallen into a pig pen. I had to find something to make it look like he had pig shit all over him. It was a lot of fun to do and very funny."

At 32, Srey Mom Sieng exudes confidence as she speaks about her upbringing in Siem Reap province and the start of her career in the media production industry.

Born during the Khmer Rouge regime, life was far from easy for Srey Mom Sieng, who said that she felt lost after her parents passed away when she was a little girl.

"I had to live with my aunt and the family has not always been supportive of my decisions," she said, including her choices to live and work in Phnom Penh and to remain single.

Initially coming to Phnom Penh to look for work, Srey Mom Sieng ended up studying tourism and hospitality at Asian University and working part time as a tailor's assistant to support herself. "It was at the tailor's shop that I learnt how to make wedding dresses and women's clothes."

Most costume designers are gay men .... my friends say I've taken a gay man's job

While her plan was to complete her studies, go back to Siem Reap and work in the tourism industry, it was her part-time job that set her on her eventual career. "I have never used what I learnt at university but I have used what I learned at the tailor shop."

In 2004 Srey Mom Sieng landed a job as a costume designer at Khmer Mekong Films and has not looked back since.

"Currently there a lot of tailors in Phnom Penh, but very few costume designers for films," she said. "Most costume designers and makeup artists are gay men, and most of my friends say that I have taken a gay man's job," she said laughing.

"My mum used to be a tailor. Now that she has passed away my work is a great way for her memory to live on," she said.

With a small fashion boutique at the Tuol Kork market, Srey Mom Sieng is also a successful entrepreneur. "I design the clothes and my sister makes them. Customers ask me to make designs for them and some pick designs from a catalogue."

 

Srey Mom Sieng answers to no one and has no doubts about the decisions she has made in her life. "I know what I am doing and I don't care about what people say," she said.

"If I stayed in Siem Reap province, I would have probably been married by now with four children and I wouldn't be able to speak English," she said. "I would have had nothing. I would just stay at home, cook and look after the children.

"I love working for Khmer Mekong Films and I am interested in film production. I like to work on educational movies because I want people to understand how to protect themselves from HIV and domestic violence," she said. "I never want to see the tears of a wife again."

Khmer Mekong Films, a media production company started by Matthew Robinson, former executive producer of the UK's drama EastEnders and former head of drama of BBC Wales, has played a substantial part in the raising of production standards in the Cambodian film and television industry.

The golden age of Cambodian filmmaking began in the 1950s. Through the 1960s, more than 300 films were made and several production companies opened their doors.

The industry took a massive tumble during the Khmer Rouge regime when only propaganda films and diplomatic meetings were recorded.

While cinemas reopened in 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, there was no domestic film industry because most of the filmmakers and actors had either been killed or fled Cambodia.

Even though media production since the 1990s has been mainly devoted to karaoke videos, comedy skits and television dramas, the local industry has been making a slow but steady comeback.

"I will soon be working on a comedy from CTN and have recently worked on three or four short stories about the Khmer Rouge trial," Srey Mom Sieng said.

"I am also looking forward to working on the A1 program on CTN that will start this week. It will be a TV show about music and I will be dressing the dancers, singers and DJs."

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