The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has banned a screening of a documentary film about murdered environmentalist Chut Wutty and threatened “strong action” against the venue if films continue to be shown without first being cleared by the government.
Set to be screened on April 20 at Phnom Penh’s Meta House Café, Fran Lambrick’s I Am Chut Wutty chronicles the fight against deforestation in Cambodia through the life of Wutty, who in 2012 was shot and killed while documenting logging activities in Koh Kong province.
A letter sent from the Ministry to Meta House yesterday states the “the film has not been subject to a content check and was made without permission for shooting from the ministry and competent authorities”.
The letter also alleges the venue has violated its 2015 memorandum of understanding with the ministry, which promises that all programming would be first cleared by the authorities. Further violations would result in “strong action” being taken by the ministry, the letter warns.
Ministry spokesman Thai Norak Satya said in an interview yesterday that, based on a 2000 sub-decree, filmmakers and businesses must apply for a licence from the ministry before shooting and submit the film to the ministry for permission to screen it. Asked to clarify what “strong action” entailed Satya said: “Wait and see.”
Sin Chan Saya, director of the ministry’s Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion, said “this is not only about this documentary but also all films, [Meta House] must submit to the ministry for permission”.
“Meta House does not respect Cambodian law,” he added.
By email yesterday, Lambrick confirmed she had not submitted the film to the department but would do so now. However, she disputed the claim that she was legally obliged to.
“This is just an excuse from the Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion, but it is not constitutional. Cambodia still has freedom of expression and association, at least according to the law,” she said.
Meta House founder Nico Mesterharm could not be reached for comment.
Chhay Bora, president of the Motion Picture Association of Cambodia, in a phone interview yesterday explained that “until [officials] see that there’s nothing that attacks the government or disrespects the culture or local traditions, they will not issue the shooting permit”, and that this applies again once the film is completed for it to be screened.
However, Bora noted that often films have been shot and screened without permission and the blocking of I Am Chut Wutty “may be because this is a sensitive topic”.
“I am not happy, as a filmmaker; when we make films, we want people to see our films,” he added.
Chut Wutty’s son, 25-year-old Cheuy Oudom Reaksmey, suggested that if the government had nothing to hide regarding the death of his father, they wouldn’t ban the screening.
“This action is more injustice for us – that it does not allow the public to learn and know about it,” he said.
A digital copy of I Am Chut Wutty can be purchased online for $9.98.