The critically acclaimed feature film Diamond Island, by French-Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou, has been nominated for best picture – with a best male actor nomination for Nuon Sobon – by the organisation Les Trophées Francophones du Cinéma.
The annual film awards, scheduled for December, celebrate movies originating in countries that are part of the “Francophonie”, or those with a notable affiliation with French culture.
Chou, who announced the nomination on Facebook yesterday, wrote that he was “proud and grateful” that the film, and Sobon, had received the distinction. Other films nominated for best picture include the French film Divines; La Patrie D’abord from Cameroon; the Lebanese film Tramontane; and Wulu, from Mali.
Diamond Island is an intimate portrait of the life of 18-year-old Bora, played by Sobon, a country boy who moves to Phnom Penh to work on a Koh Pich construction site and is reunited with his mysterious older brother Solei (Nov Cheanick).
For many of the lead roles, including Sobon, Chou opted to forgo seeking professional actors, instead scouring construction sites and the streets of Phnom Penh. For Cheanick, who is otherwise a painter, Chou’s decision was natural, given the actors could relate to the roles and experiences portrayed.
“Davy did not have to create the actor, he just found the real thing. It’s so natural,” Cheanick said.
Sobon was a taxi driver when Chou discovered him, and to date this is his sole on-screen role. He is now a driver and translator for a Chinese garment factory. He said yesterday he was “happy and proud” for himself, his family and his nation when he learned about the nomination.
“I do not think I will win the prize because I am just an amateur, while the others have engaged in [professional acting] far longer,” he said.
The Kampong Speu native – who is the third of five children and was raised by his father, a primary school teacher – only finished grade four and has lived in Phnom Penh since 2014.
“Davy noticed me one day when I was waiting for travellers. He went past me but came back and asked whether I wanted to be in his movie,” he said.
Although surprised by the offer, Sobon agreed, against his family’s suggestion.
He says he wouldn’t be opposed to acting again if approached by a producer, though he notes that, odds are, he will likely remain in his current job.