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Young Cambodian directors win big at short film festival

Award-winning Cambodian filmmaker Sothea Ines, centre, with first runner-up Ly Polen, right
Award-winning Cambodian filmmaker Sothea Ines, centre, with first runner-up Ly Polen, right. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Young Cambodian directors win big at short film festival

Young Cambodian filmmaker Sothea Ines has been awarded $10,000 and a trip to Hollywood to meet movie moguls after winning first prize in the inaugural Tropfest South East Asia festival on Saturday.

In a successful night for Cambodian film, the first runner-up prize was awarded to fellow Cambodian Ly Polen, for his film, Duetto.

A 5,000-strong crowd attended the event, held in Penang, Malaysia, along with a judging panel including the likes of Oscar-winning director Adam Elliot and Palme d’Or winning-Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

More than 180 short film entries all centred around the festival’s theme, rice, and 12 finalists were selected to have their films screened live.

On winning Tropfest South East Asia with her first short film, Ines, 24, said it was an experience that she would never forget.

“I’m feeling so excited and incredible,” she said in an interview on Sunday.

“It’s not just winning the award, it’s all about attending and getting to know so many inspiring and professional people in the festival.”

Her winning entry, titled Rice, is set in 1975 in a children’s camp during the Khmer Rouge regime. Scenes show children searching through the fields for rice as they struggle to survive.

While admitting it was an ambitious subject for such an inexperienced filmmaker to confront, Ines said she felt that the experience has encouraged her to make more films that feature Cambodian voices.

“This has opened my eyes to the world of [storytelling]. I hope I have the luck to tell story from Cambodian perspective and tell [the] Cambodian story.”

Polen, a self-taught filmmaker inspired by the communicative capabilities of YouTube, said the award was not only a personal achievement but also could serve as a source of inspiration for other aspiring filmmakers.

“I just feel and I believe that after the war, Cambodia has lost a sense of art a lot, especially with cinema and I believe with this achievement, I think it will inspire the younger generation a little bit to believe and hope more about filmmaking.”

Following Rithy Panh’s recent Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film with The Missing Picture, this strong showing at Tropfest South East Asia signals the promise and talent of young Cambodian filmmakers, said Nicolaus Mesterharm, who runs the German cultural centre Meta House.

Mesterharm, who frequently screens local films and has worked with Polen, said that younger generations of Cambodian are becoming more involved in film with a greater access and understanding of its capabilities. “It’s good to see that Rithy Panh is nominated for the Oscar, it’s a great thing for him I guess, but also good to see that the younger generation are following,” he said.

“It tells you something about the local talent as well as something about the young generation who now through the internet can participate in these events and can inform themselves and can actually influence.”

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