Jim Gerrand: Australian documentary filmmaker Jim Gerrand first arrived in Cambodia by canoe in 1967 with only a monkey for company – a voyage that became the basis for his first documentary, Mekong Downstream. Gerrand has returned frequently since, producing several films about the country’s politics and history. While in town for last week’s film festival and to shoot footage for his current project The Hun Sen Era, Gerrand gave Harriet Fitch Little a rundown of his favourite films about the Kingdom
Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock ’n’ Roll
Particularly for younger Cambodians, I’d recommend a film like the one made by Marc Eberle about the Cambodian Space Project. It’s a film about the band, but it’s not really about the band itself but about the relationships. You have this really spirited, spunky woman, Srey Thy, the singer. Many would argue that the film has a great ending, because Srey Thy has her independence – she doesn’t need this barang any more. That’s true, but I’m not wanting to see the film in terms of the liberation of Cambodian women. I see the film more in terms of people trying to understand each other – to have the flexibility to open their minds. There’s a lot in it to think about and argue about.
Rithy Panh’s S21 is a very important film. He’s somehow drawn those people out enough to re-enact the horrific lives they had to lead, or have led. That to me is on a par with what Joshua Oppenheimer has done with The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence in Indonesia. To go through S21 through Rithy’s investigation, I think it beats all the years and money and time that has been put into the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. But it’s a daunting thing to go through. For the barang who come and take an interest in Cambodia, we’re morbidly fascinated by the trauma the country’s been through. Many Cambodians might not want to go there, and I’d understand it.
The Land of Wandering Souls
I’ve got huge respect for Rithy Panh – that won’t be a surprise – but among his films, the one that I like the most is probably not so well-known. It’s called The Land of Wandering Souls. It’s about itinerant workers in the countryside and the lives they lead. It’s a filmmaker’s film because it’s nicely edited and paced, and you can’t believe some of the intimate conversations and shots that he’s got. You’ve got to have a real commitment of time, and a feeling for the people you’re working with to do that – you can’t do, as I tend to do, jump out of the car and squirt a camera at a few things.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten
John Pirozzi’s film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten offers real access to the music of the 1960s. You couldn’t call it a history lesson, but it’s a sketch of Cambodia at that time. It’s been part of the revival of the smooth, cheeky, catchy, soft rock music and songs from the Sihanouk era. A big plus for Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is that its release was timely – it was finished and marketed at least 18 months before Eberle’s Cambodia Space Project film, for example. Certainly Pirozzi left no stone unturned in marketing it, in the USA, Europe and wherever there is an opening. Pirozzi is the sort of tireless hustler that any documentary needs to find its audiences.
Last of the Elephant Men
Last of the Elephant Men is about elephants and the forest, but it brings up the whole issue of development. It’s about people living their lives in a certain way, not as museum pieces exactly, but following the things that made people happy in the past. But then some land concession is given and the forest is cut down. It’s good for the economy, but a lot of people are left out. When you look into the eyes of that elephant, it says everything. And you can’t help feeling: Wow, what a wonderful animal and what wonderful people around it. And the old man’s just an old man who could be anywhere, and he’s regretting that there’s no one who understands or who can take it on from there. I can identify with those people!