Cambodian filmmaker Chhay Bora’s controversial drama 3.50 is finally set to be released two years after being submitted to the government’s film censors for review.
Produced by Bora and written by Justin Deimen, 3.50 is the fictional story of a US documentary filmmaker who submerges herself into the Phnom Penh human trafficking industry to save a young villager whose virginity is for sale.
“People have been waiting two years to share that story,” Bora said, adding that, after getting the stamp of approval last week, the film would hopefully be ready for a nationwide theatrical release later this month or in June.
The movie was slated for a 2013 premiere and was screened abroad, but it has taken almost two years for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art’s Department of Film’s censorship board to make a decision.
Under Cambodian law, all movies legally released in the Kingdom must be approved by the department.
Bora said the film was blocked over concerns that it would cast Cambodia in a bad light.
“The film department was very worried about [showing] dark parts of society, and the film bringing a bad reputation to the nation,” he said.
Times have now changed and the censorship board was ready to approve the movie, he said.
“The permission is made at this time, as the social situation has changed and the ministry also wants our film sector to develop like our neighbouring nations, so they have given us the rights,” he said.
But Sin Chanchaya, director of the Department of Film, blamed the delay on bureaucratic complications during the film’s initial submission to the ministry.
No credits were included in the submitted cut as required by law, and it was not clear whether the copyrights belonged to Bora or his partners at the Singapore-based Silver Media Group, he said.
“We allowed him to screen it when he wrote a paper to the ministry to [solve] his problem,” said Chanchaya, adding that it was never his aim to stifle local creativity.
“We never want to ban any Khmer film that our local directors produce, and we only want to see their screening,” he said.
Both Bora and Chanchaya confirmed the censorship board asked for two edits, including a few moments during a scene at a hymen reconstruction clinic as well as a line where a character states Cambodia is “full of sex trafficking”. The total cuts amounted to about a minute, said Bora.
Bora was happy with the approved product saying that its release was a victory for freedom of artistic expression in Cambodia.
“It opens [society] wider to questions, and it’s a message to other filmmakers that they can choose the topic they want to make a film [about],” he said, adding that he felt compelled to release the film for society’s sake.
“I have my reasons to protect my work ... the rule of filmmaking is to reflect society, to tell the story to the people,” he said.
Additional reporting Bennett Murray.