In 2016, Cambodian movie theatres welcomed 3 million moviegoers. Just a third of those went to see a Cambodian film, a fact a Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts report yesterday chalked up largely to small budgets and “limited quality” it said left local fare struggling to compete with foreign imports.
Released by the ministry’s Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department, the report goes on to say that while 38 films were produced domestically last year – a 13 percent jump from the year prior – they fail to adequately promote cultural identity, virtue and meaning.
One reason cited was a lack of trained filmmaking professionals. “[We] lack human resources, script writers and film producers,” the report reads, going on to suggest training courses in the still-fledgling industry are “needed and urgent”, though no plans for funding such courses was suggested.
Filmmaker Ly Polen (Colourful Knots) yesterday argued that there are currently not enough distributors and producers in Cambodia, particularly ones willing to take a risk on products outside the mainstream.
Most Cambodian distributors “don’t like independent or arthouse films”, he said.
“The Ministry of Culture’s censorship policies remain very conservative,” he added, something he felt could lead to self-censorship and an unwillingness by filmmakers to think outside the box.
Chhay Bora – whose first film, the Khmer Rouge era-set Lost Loves, was Cambodia’s second official entry for the Oscars in 2012 – agreed with the ministry’s assessment that local product often fails to strive for higher values.
Cambodian filmmakers still rely on predictable formulas for mass appeal, he said, adding there is a need for powerful dramas that convey important social lessons. His next project, a script depicting the life of singer Sinn Sisamouth, was born of that, he said.
But Jimmy Henderson, an Italian filmmaker working in the Kingdom whose buzzed-about action comedy Jailbreak opened Tuesday, hesitated to place an overemphasis on message films.
Henderson said he admires Cambodian filmmakers like David Chou (Cannes Film Festival award winner Diamond Island) who build movies around a singular “filmmaking vision” that tell a story with interesting characters and innovative use of pace, colour and sound.
“It’s a bit harsh to say every movie needs a message,” he said. “It needs to be good entertainment.”
For Sothea Innes, a director and writer known for Love to the Power of 4, the ultimate quality of film or TV projects often comes down to simple dollars and cents.
“We have the ability to [write good scripts], but sometimes when we shoot a film it comes out differently than we hoped because we don’t have the budget.”
Martin de Bourmant