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Keeping Cambodia in the film scene

Keeping Cambodia in the film scene

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CAMBODIAN film technicians are paving the way for smooth shooting on foreign movies in the Kingdom, says the Cambodian Film Commission.

Having learned their trade and updated their skills with the help of experts, local technicians have found work on at least eight movies and four TV dramas shot here over the past two years, said CFC director Cheap Sovichea. That’s not to mention the other 58 documentaries, five commercials and two TV shows.

But many foreign film makers didn’t realise that they could get specialised technical help from commission staff.

Some had scouted locations in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Thailand because they didn’t know that technicians and special cameras were available for hire in Cambodia, he added.

“They planned to shoot some movies in Cambodia, but they chose locations in Thailand and designed the same landscape as Cambodia, and they even brought Cambodian actors to film over there, too. The problem is that they didn’t know how to contact us.”

His commission staff could help pave the way for filming licences and permits, scout locations and hire out equipment and cameras, he said.

Not only that, but the commission has also helped improve scripts for overseas productions and stopped producers from making some serious cultural mistakes.

For example, a 2004 movie called Holy Lola directed by Bertrand Tavernier featured farmers in Kampot province. Cheap Sovichea was working as a general manager on the movie and saw that the producer wanted to feature farmers wearing the conical straw hats more common to Vietnam. “We pointed out that Cambodian farmers wore a different kind of hat made from palm leaves, so the script was changed before the movie was shot,” he said.

The German movie Same, Same, But Different, shot in 2009 and showing a young German falling in love with a Cambodian bar girl, had problems with its script too.

“In the script, one scene required a monk to be seated on a motorcycle behind the woman driver. So we told them that Buddhist monks could not be touched by a woman, even their mother or sister. So they agreed to change their script,” he said.

Before the commission was created, a film called Beyond Borders shot in 2003 used Thai actors to portray Khmer Rouge soldiers. When they speak in Khmer they sound Vietnamese, but the Khmer Rouge shot anyone as a spy who sounded Vietnamese, so it just doesn’t make sense, said Cheap Sovichea.

Another problem Cambodia faces is producing an international star, he said.

The producer of Same, Same, But Different chose a Thai actress to play the lead role as a Cambodian bar girl because they couldn’t find a suitable Cambodian actress even after a two-month search, he said.

“They couldn’t find a Cambodian actress who could behave as a bar girl, smoke, play pool and speak good English. The level of English among our actors is still low, so they chose a Thai girl whose physical appearance looks similar to Cambodian women.”

Better-trained technicians could not only help attract more foreign production companies to Cambodia but also help to revive the country’s film sector, said Sin Chansaya, director of the Cinema and Culture Diffusion Department.

Since the government film sector was dismantled in favour of the private sector in the late 1980s, the standard has plummeted, he complained.

“After the government allowed privatisation, many people began their own film companies though they didn’t have a background in filming. By the late 1980s, we had more than 200 private film companies in such a small country. But they made bad movies. People didn’t want to watch them,” said Sin Chansaya.

As part of his department’s plan to help revive the film sector, a film school was planned for development in the long term and laws would be passed to protect film makers’ copyright, he said.

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