Last week, I had the privilege of photographing an Oscars party in Phnom Penh. Actors and directors from the Sixties, the ‘golden age’ of Cambodian cinema, attended the event. In the Sixties, even King Sihanouk was a renowned film maker. The Cambodian film industry, like the arts in general, was severely set back by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian film industry still hasn’t recovered its former glory.
At the Oscars party, there was a flurry of excitement when Dy Saveth arrived. Dy Saveth starred in several films throughout the Sixties and was the first Miss Cambodia. She moved to France when the Khmer Rouge came to power. Dy Saveth returned to Cambodia in 1993. She still stars in Cambodian films.
Photographing the event got me thinking about the Cambodian film industry. I spoke to Reaksmey, who works for the Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodia putting forward films for the foreign language category at the Oscars. The problem is at the moment, the majority of films are low budget ghost/love stories, which are popular with teenagers. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodian actors receive better training, in order to improve the quality of films. He mentions Lost Loves (about the Khmer Rouge) and 25 Year-Old Girl (about a woman with amnesia) as standout Cambodian films.
Cambodian-made documentaries have received more investment and attention than feature films. Meta House regularly shows Cambodian-made documentaries. Several documentaries are being shown throughout March. Bophana also hosts weekly documentary screenings, many of which are Cambodian-made. Visitors can also search through Bophana’s extensive film archives. There’s fascinating footage from the twenties to the present day. You can even watch films directed by King Sihanouk himself. An understanding of Khmer or French is helpful when viewing the archives. The videos are fascinating, whether or not you can follow what people are saying.