Filmmaker Kavich Neang is carving out a position as one of Cambodia’s prominent young artists. His film Goodbye Phnom Penh took the top prize at the Chaktomuk Short Film Festival last weekend. As one of the members of art-house film production company Anti-Archive, he encourages directors and audiences to rethink the past – and its role in the present. He’s received two grants at the Busan International Film Festival to pursue a feature film about the White Building ahead of its demolition. This week, Kavich walked Sarah Jane Bell through the place he called home for almost all of his 29 years.
You made Goodbye Phnom Penh as one of a collection of films representing parts of Asia. Can you tell us more about it?
The Asian Film Archive celebrated their 10th anniversary by inviting Asian filmmakers to represent their country and make their own piece on the theme “Fragment”. I thought, “What’s ‘fragment’?” I decided to focus on the young generation and the relationship between a young Cambodian man and a French-Cambodian woman. For me, this is a fragment because they’re together, but in a way [they’re] not, because of their backgrounds and the difference in how they understand things. It is very broken.
Who is the intended audience?
A film is not really just about making a film; it’s about giving a message. For me, it’s most important that Cambodian people see it. It’s very important to get people talking about this message – of what love and relationships mean in Cambodia for the young generation, why the couple feels they have to escape the outside world. Most Cambodian people think introducing your partner [to your parents] unless you’re getting married, or having sex before marriage, is not the best thing, so the film raises the topic and starts a discussion.
Alongside Davy Chou and Steve Chen, you built the production company Anti-Archive, with a fourth member, Park Sungho, joining this year. Why did you start your own outfit?
Anti-Archive was established in 2014 because all of us, despite different backgrounds, really love making films. There is so much art and film, but we wanted to build something new; that is the spirit of Anti-Archive. The idea is to rethink the past, but also to think about what is happening now in Cambodia. In my new project, I’m really looking at the new generation and how young people are connected to society.
Your current project, The White Building, recently received a production grant at South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival. What should we expect?
When I heard the White Building would be demolished, I was very sad thinking about my childhood memories, my friends, the places that I had played. As a filmmaker, I want to capture that feeling and the atmosphere, to record all my memories and put this into a feature film.
What was it like growing up in the White Building?
When I was about 7, I started to understand and hear the sounds of the White Building. The sounds of the music, of people singing, the sound of people making sculptures. My father is an artist – a sculptor, so the emotions and atmosphere are very special. All my friends are artists, we really enjoyed our time together playing music, but in the 1990s, it changed. It became a place for prostitutes, drugs and thieves. Some of my friends had to move. I feel like all my memories are stuck in the White Building. And now that the building is going to be demolished, I ask deep inside what the White Building means to me, what home means to me.
You’ve won an array of international film awards but how does it feel receiving recognition within your home country?
I’ve made a few short films that have won prizes outside of Cambodia, and while the recognition is good for the future and is good for new projects, for me, winning the prize in Cambodia is much more special. That Cambodians have started to understand art and seeing what film means to them is a lot more fulfilling and inspiring.