Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

The Re-Birth of Cinema in Cambodia?

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Our last night in Phnom Penh, Wendy and I wanted to lay low and catch a flick after dinner. When we got back to Sunday Guest House, we asked the mother of the family that runs the place where we could catch a movie nearby.

“Oh. No movie in Cambodia.” she said with a straight face. Thinking she may have misunderstood our question, we asked her again where we could find a “cinema.” “No cinema here.” she reinforced. We both had a hard time processing this. When we told Nate upon his arrival to Siem Reap, he informed me that it was my duty to get to the bottom of this.

Apparently, it’s still in question whether there is an accessible movie theater in Cambodia’s developing capital. There were two listed in a Phnom Penh newspaper I was looking through, but details regarding showtimes and titles were vague, if not non-existent. From what I gathered from an Asia Life Guide (the Nov. 2009 issue), since the strict rule of the Khmer Rouge, cinemas and theater houses that once served the public have since turned into large hotels and nightclubs. Because the majority of Cambodia’s most talented producers, directors, actors, and writers were considered intellectuals, artists, and potential political opponents, they became victims of the planned executions that were carried out in the mid-late 70’s. Approximately only 33 films were recovered out of the 350 that were made in this country.

It is a shame that, as of late, mainly B-style horror movies are being filmed and screened to Khmer audiences, if any audiences at all. (These films seem mostly popular with teenage audiences and aren’t being widely distributed due to the poor quality of production and lack of plot development. This only re-inforces the ongoing closures of movie houses due to lack of financial support.) With the loss of quality filmmaking comes a hinderance to the cultural revolution that this country so needs. Not being a native nor resident here, I really don’t have the information to make a one-sided argument for the need to initiate contemporary filmmaking nor criticize any country’s situation regarding its accessibilty to fine arts and free media (especially when a country is facing so many other problems that should hold higher priority). To know that an activity I have always enjoyed and felt a beneficiary of is not even offered in Cambodia at this time makes me hope that things will be different over the next few years – that the younger Khmer generation will acknowledge the fact that creative arts can provide opportunities, not just in terms of careers, but in terms of uprising a cultural revolution. For a country that cannot forget its dark past (as its people are still suffering old wounds in the present), looking ahead to prospective industries in the arts can provide new direction to partial recovery. I’m a big believer in baby steps.

Until the Khmer people can once again demonstrate pride in work that is theirs to own and the country can efficiently market what it has to offer, Cambodia is going to remain challenged and viewed as unprepared to economically compete with its neighbors. Several of the nation’s former leaders responsible for participation in the genocides are now (still) being tried for crimes committed decades ago. The news offers constant reminders that justice has not been served. With justice might come a peace of mind for survivors and the families of those who suffered, however, improvements for the future must be the current focus. Renewed interest in the arts and education, as well as improvements in basic infrastructure, must become investments in the years to come.

Cambodia is a beautiful country, and if you can get past the tragedy and try to understand what is needed to help build a steady future, you will appreciate it for all that it is worth and want to come back.

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Written by winniewongsf

December 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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