Go to either one of Cambodia’s two commercial cinemas and you can bet that seats will be filled with teenagers and 20-somethings. With the introduction of DVD players and cable TV in Phnom Penh, many people now choose to watch films in the comfort of their homes, saving time, money and movement. But a loyal group of youths are keeping Cambodia’s fledgling film industry and cinema culture alive.
Another thing you are almost sure to see at Ciné Lux on Norodom Boulevard or Cinema Sorya, on the fifth floor of Sorya mall, is a horror film. Though most of the films screened are coming from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, the movies being made in Cambodia are meant to make you scream.
Because teenagers make up most of the audience still willing to pay for movie tickets in the Kingdom, the type of movies that are produced or imported to be shown on the country’s two white screens is determined largely by the tastes of Cambodia’s youth.
“My cinema can survive because I screen the movies that the teenagers like seeing, especially ghost movies,” said Korm Chanthy, who is the owner of Cinema Sorya, as well as one of the country’s most prolific filmmakers. “If I produce films that don’t follow what my audience wants, my business may fail and I will lose my money.”
The lack of variety in the films being produced and shown in Cambodia is frustrating to officials in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, who would prefer to see a wider array of genres enlightening the country’s youth or encouraging Cambodian values.
“They should make their movies about a wider array of topics, and their movies should attract all kinds of people; young, old, in the middle, male or female,” said Sin Chanseya, the director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department, who must approve any movie that screens on Cambodian TVs or theatres.
So why do young people continue to support movie theatres when the rest of the population seems to have abandoned them?
Korm Chanthy’s answer to that question echoed the response of many of the theatre-goers that Lift spoke with.
“Young teenagers enjoy watching movies in the theatre because it is very dark place for them to enjoy doing anything that they want,” Korm Chanthy said. “For example, they can make their relationship become better and closer by holding hands, hugging and kissing because no one can see what they are doing.”
Srey Lin, 17, says that she loves watching Thai ghost movies at Ciné Lux, despite the fact that she is very afraid of ghosts. “I always go to see the movies at Lux with my boyfriend because we can build our relationship at the cinema,” she said. “When I see the ghost movies, I feel very afraid and I close my eyes and then my boyfriend pulls my head into his chest and hugs me,” she said.
Though there is no doubt that the lines at Cambodia’s cinemas are filled with lovers, there are others who go to spend some time with other acquaintances. “I prefer watching as a group because I want to build good relationships with my family and friends,” said Chhouen Munny, who added that although it is not his preference, he sees nothing wrong with a little loving in the theatre seats. “If anyone comes with his or her partner and does something beyond what is generally acceptable in our culture, it is not a serious thing anymore since this is a modern time,” he explained.
Regardless of the reason for Cambodian youths’ patronage of Sorya and Lux cinemas, the country’s Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department is working to diversify the types of movies that are shown. In an effort to broaden the subject matter of the movies that Cambodians consume, Sin Chanseya explained that he is using his skills as a film producer to make movies that are more interesting, unique and true to Cambodian society.
Film producers “should make films that appeal to all types of people”, he said. “I don’t know why they only choose teenagers, who are just a small segment of the population.”