Strong reactions erupted among Cambodian youth on Facebook over the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ decision of taking back a possibly promised screening licence of the sex trafficking documentary film 3.50 in Phnom Penh-based Legend Cinema one week prior to the premiere on October 31.
Hundreds of young Cambodians expressed disappointment and anger on film director Chhay Bora’s Facebook page over the censorship of a film they eagerly awaited to watch since it sheds light on one of Cambodia’s most dire social grievances: the reckless business of virgin trafficking and forced prostitution. Stunned over the Department of Film’s decision to deny the public a voice over the issue (especially because shooting licence was given in 2012 and screening licence was promised to the distributor, according to director Bora) many commentators blame politics and corruption for the decision.
“[Because] the film will reflect the weakness of the government that’s why the licence is not issued,” Pisey Peou expressed her view on Facebook.
Yoko Coco gave a similar reaction: “Maybe they [the government] feel guilty? Because it’s real problem?” Kalyta Koko commented that “if you give enough money, there will be no question. Don’t you know Cambodia?”“ ឲ្យតែលុយដល់ទៅរកកន្លែងឆ្ងល់លែងឃើញហើយ ធើមិនដឹងស្រុកខ្មែរ!!”. “They need money deng bong?” Vandana So asked in a comment.
Whatever the reasons for the denial of the screening of 3.50 on October 31 were – they remain mysterious.
Director Chhay Bora who received critical acclaim for the Oscar short-listed Khmer Rouge documentary drama Lost Loves in 2002 said he held four long meetings with the Film Department since June during which they asked many questions about the film. “After they agreed to some scenes they always came up with other stuff they didn’t agree with. This is really strange to me,” Bora said.
He said the Film Department had argued that the film would create a bad image of Cambodian society. According to Bora a scene showing a tuk-tuk driver involved in the sex trafficking throwing a cigarette out of a car window or a scene with the prime minister’s office in the background as well as a scene in that the male protagonist’s friend sleeps with his trafficked girlfriend caused delay.
Then suddenly a week before the screening Bora said permission to screen was given verbally upon the application of the distributor. One day later Bora said the distributor went on holiday in the US and the Film Department told him permission to screen the film would not be given. A claim Legend Cinema and the Film Department deny – yet the screening was announced and a room for the premiere booked.
Sin Chan Chhaya, director of the Department of Film said to LIFT on the phone on Monday October 4 the reasons for denying permission were not to be discussed with journalists in detail but rather with the director of the film alone.
”There are suggestions to cut out some scenes that could affect Cambodian culture and tradition.” Chhaya added.
Confronted with the accusations of political intentions and corruption on Facebook he answered:
“There are no politics or corruption involved in this case. This [denying screening permission] is a matter of morality.”
If the matter is in fact down to morality remains questionable. Permission for the screening has not been given. Uploading the film onto the internet and still having the trailer and pictures all over Facebook and Youtube are not an issue however.
Bora said that though he wanted people to see 3.50, putting it on the internet for free was not an option for him. “I need the return of the money that was invested into the film. Otherwise I will never get a film financed again.” He explained.
That 3.50 didn’t make it into the theatres for the moment is a severe setback, especially after Bora’s Lost Loves from 2002 was the most successful Khmer film at the box office and helped him to finance further projects.
A hope that seems to be replaced with frustration: “Life in a golden cage. I feel my freedom and wisdom are under pressure of the censors that I hate the most in my life. I’d rather be living in poverty but rich in freedom.” Mr. Bora posted on his personal Facebook page on October 4.
To Bora the demands of the Film Department are unacceptable and insignificant. He said he would not agree to delete any scenes from his original film.
People had offered to aid him with connections into the Ministry of Culture or by other means Bora said but for him it was out of the question. “I want to do it the proper way with a regular application that doesn’t get rejected for whatever reason.” He said.