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Turning to the crowd to help fund short films

Neang Kavich
Filmmaker Neang Kavich directs actors during shooting for his new short film. KIMBERLEY MCCOSKER

Turning to the crowd to help fund short films

With local filmmakers increasingly finding crowdfunding a valuable tool to pay for projects, a Cambodia-specific venture has been launched

When Neang Kavich launched a crowdfunding campaign for his new short film about the consequences of forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge, he hoped to raise $2,000 in two weeks. It ended up taking less than 24 hours. As the campaign on the website Indiegogo finally closed last weekend, 49 people had donated nearly $4,500.

Inspired by his own family history and with the working title Tuc Tuc, the short film tells the story of a tuk-tuk driver and his wife who were forced to marry during the Khmer Rouge finally confronting their past nearly 40 years later.

Filming started this week in a home in the White Building, at a photography studio at Stung Meanchey and in a hired tuk-tuk while driving around Phnom Penh.

“It would have been difficult to make the film without the crowdfunding money,” Kavich, 27, said during a break this week. “We’ve already been waiting a year to make it, and I think we would have to put it off even longer [until we saved enough].”

The short’s co-producer Davy Chou said that even though most of the film equipment was borrowed, with a cast and crew of nearly a dozen people, shooting was still expensive. Costs included renting the tuk-tuk, food, transportation, props and decorations, location rental, film permits, additional equipment, tips, post production, marketing and a token payment to the cast and crew.

Ly Polen
A still from Ly Polen’s short film Colourful Knots. Photo Supplied

“So at the end you feel it’s a cheap film, but it costs you a lot,” Chou said. “And you always have the traditional wrap party at the end of the shooting, especially when people are not paid well, you have to try treat them well with food and ending party.”

Kavich isn’t the first Cambodian filmmaker to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Ly Polen last year crowdfunded $1,800 through Indiegogo to make his film Colourful Knots, which won this year’s Tropfest Southeast Asia short film competition. Polen said there were few investors locally willing to back short films.

“The contributions were made by my friends, colleagues, and the audiences that had followed my works since my previous films,” he said.

And documentary-makers Haig Balian and Christopher Rompré earlier this month raised $17,521 for their documentary

The Man Who Built Cambodia about the father of new Khmer architecture, Vann Molyvann.

However, crowdfunding is far from guaranteed cash. A quick search on website Indiegogo for film projects in Cambodia comes up with dozens that have made only a fraction of their targets, from worthy landmine documentaries to ambitious sci-fi movie projects.

Kavich – best known for his documentary Where I Go, about a young Cambodian of mixed heritage searching for his Cameroonian father – said most of the donors to Tuc Tuc’s crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo were friends.

“They know what I’m doing and want to support young people to follow their passion,” he said.

“It’s not only the story. They’re Cambodians who want to help other Cambodian young people to use their talent. And by doing something good, show other Cambodians that they can use their talent and ideas to make something, too. It’s about setting a good example for other Cambodians to plan their projects.”

As Kavich began shooting his film this week, Sothea Ines – who won Tropfest Southeast Asia in 2014 for her short Rice – launched her own campaign for a new film.

In Khmao Rouge (which means “black red”), the former head of a Khmer Rouge labour camp years later unknowingly encounters one of the internees while playing roulette at a border casino.

Instead of using Indiegogo or Kickstarter, Ines is hoping to raise $5,000 through a new Cambodian-specific venture.

Called Come Together!, the venture aims to foster a community of filmmakers, artists, musicians and other creatives working on socially beneficial projects. A crowdfunding service will be provided through TosFund, which is co-owned by Come Together!, NGO Action IEC and software company Alien Dev.

“The core idea is to collect tiny sums from a large mass and grow that into a basket that funds the most innovative and creative projects,” said Come Together! co-founder Heng Sokchannaroath, a former radio presenter and producer for BBC Media Action. “This way, Cambodians can be their own donors, which would be a paradigm shift and a welcome departure from the traditional dependency on foreign aid.”

Ines conceded that the fundraising campaign was more likely to succeed on Indiegogo or Kickstarter, but she said she wanted the money for the film to come from Cambodian people.

“I want to let them be involved and offer their support, because at the end it’s a Cambodian film and they should feel proud to be part of it,” she said.”

In the future Kavich hopes to produce his first full-length feature film – and he might even turn to the crowd to fund it.

“I don’t know how much I would need to spend on a feature film. It would depend on that. But if the subject matter was interesting and everyone liked the story, crowdfunding could be a platform for making it happen.”

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