Paon Phuong Bopha explains how she became Cambodia’s most recognised female director
If asked to name the most famous filmmaker in Cambodia today, many would say Paon Phuong Bopha. She is undoubtedly one of the nation’s most respected and acclaimed filmmakers. Her films have been shown in theatres and TV stations, including the Cambodian Television Network (CTN). She began her directorial career as producer at the Cambodia Women’s Media Centre (WMC), which works with members of the media to produce content that ensures women’s stories are told and their voices heard.
How was your family life during the Khmer Rouge regime?
I lost three people in the family: my father, my husband and a younger brother in 1976 to the Khmer Rouge regime. So I was a 19-year-old widow left with two children after the regime.
After the regime collapsed, I had to take more responsibility for supporting my mum, my siblings and the two children.
My life changed after one event during the regime. I was in real trouble because the Khmer Rouge soldiers of Angkar noticed me that I always wrote something in the dirt at the meeting; it was my luck that I was not killed at that time.
Those who were known as teachers were all killed by Angkar.
When did you start your career as a film writer? How many stories have you written?
First, I was a journalist, writing for the Art, Culture, Education and Sport section of Rasmey Kampuchea daily newspaper between 1993 and 1998.
After five years working for the newspaper, I was hired by Cambodia Women’s Media Centre because the centre needed only women to work and I started to write films since that time.
After working there for a short period of time, I was assigned to be a co-director and produced films there.
I produced a lot of films that were about education, health, disaster, sex trafficking. After six-and-a-half years at WMC, I decided to work for another institution, Cambodian Television Network (CTN). During the past six years at CTN, I have produced 20 films.
How did your love for writing begin?
I love reading novels and newspapers. When I was young, my father was not very happy about my literacy because he was scared that I read some articles about love or sex. I also enjoyed foreign cinema from a young age.
Which of your films do you regard as the most popular and well-received?
All of the 20 films are popular among Cambodian people. The most popular film is Mother’s Heart, Good Husband, Snam Sne Samot Ream (Love Memory at Ream Sea).
As I have noticed, those films that I have produced made some change to our society, and I am very pleased that I can be a person who can educate many people in society.
I think I am playing a very important role in society and also for my family.
What are the difficulties when writing and producing?
It is a very difficult task, but what I have done is from the experience I have had. I’ve got to concentrate and try harder. If I don’t, what will happen? There are a lot of words I have to write and a lot of things I have to do. I, on the other hand, have to struggle to find something new from reading novels.
Now, I rarely read because I find it difficult to see small capital letters, so I stop to watch films to get inspired to write.
But that does not mean I copy ideas from those films I watched. Now, I like watching Korean films because the Korean film industry is hitting the world marketplace.
What kind of stories do you write most?
We have an exact purpose before writing. With all films I have written, I have my own message to the public and the government.
All of the topics of each film are always concerned about today’s social issues. I normally include family problems in each film. I never wrote and produced any stories which are about our nation’s history.
For instance, if we run a theme that is about the Royal Palace, how much money do we have to pay? It costs a lot of money, for there are many people whom we need to pay.
What is your perception of Cambodian films today?
Through my observation, Cambodian films today are very popular with Cambodians.
Although Khmer films do not have a market place, we have broadcast our films through television. Now there are not many investing in our film industry.
Today we don’t have much money to produce films as other developed countries.
Cambodia’s film industry will be better if we have more marketplaces.
Ideas to produce any film are appreciated, but it is still difficult since nobody invests in Cambodia’s film industry.
What are your plans or projects in the future?
I have my own project; I will continue to produce more films. But I will have stopped producing by 2012 because I will have retired by 2012.
But I don’t know if I can continue till 2012, for it depends on my health.
I am now editing Udom Phakriyear (Excellent Wife), which will be screened soon. I am going to run other stories called Women’s Trick, Ku Preng Chamlek (Strange Couple), and Older Sister’s heart, which is the story idea of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
What is the message of The Living Way of Stars, widely regarded as your masterpiece?
This film is about lifestyles of the stars. It is about where they come from, how they become celebrities, what difficulties they face and how they handle the problems of their future life. So the film is to inform stars to know who they really are.
Have you faced criticism after your story was published?
People normally receive criticism when they do something.
There are two types of criticism I have encountered. First, I met some people who criticise me to improve or develop my film.
The other kind of criticism is to break me down, which usually comes from magazines.
I would like people who criticise me to watch the film first, because they don’t really know what my film is about. I will be happy to see their criticism afterwards.