Cambodia Takes the Spotlight in April

Posted by Brian Brooks on 3.14.2013

Davy Chou's Golden Slumbers (2011)

The spotlight turns to Cambodia, which will highlight its brutal past and its hopeful present in an upcoming series of films from the Southeast Asian country. "Old Ghosts, New Dreams: The Emerging Cambodian Cinema" is hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in partnership with documentarian Rithy Panh, and will take place parallel to the citywide "Season of Cambodia" arts festival April 19 - 25.

Panh's work will be highlighted in the week-long series, including his documentary S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (2002), which looks back at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison—known as "S21"—which was converted into a genocide museum. Panh's 2012 feature Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell, meanwhile, is a character study about the Khmer Rouge's first leader to be brought before an international criminal court of justice.

Other highlights of the film series include Golden Slumbers, a look at Cambodia’s lost cinematic heritage with first-hand accounts of the emergence and flourishing of Cambodian cinema from the 60s through the 70s. The documentary A River Changes Course is the feature directorial debut by Kalyanee Mam, who won an Oscar for Cinematography for her work on Inside Job. The film, which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize this year at the Sundance Film Festival, takes a look at how rapid development has affected the country's land and people. Anne Bass’s uplifting documentary Dancing Across Borders (2011), follows the journey of a young dancer from the countryside of Cambodia to the halls of New York’s School of American Ballet and to the stage of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

Film Society's Executive Director Rose Kuo noted: "This program of films reveal a Cambodia few have actually seen, from the heartbreaking truths and legacy of the Khmer Rouge as well as the Cambodian people who survived that struggle to both endure and maintain their culture—all documented and told through the camera lens.”

Full lineup: 

"Dancing Across Borders" (2011) 88min
Director: Anne Bass
Country: USA
On a trip to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia in January 2000, filmmaker Anne Bass came across a sixteen-year-old boy who moved her immensely with his amazing natural charm and grace as a dancer. A longtime devotee of the world of dance, Bass felt compelled to give this young boy the opportunity to leave his home and follow a dream that he could not yet have fully imagined. From the serene countryside of Cambodia to the halls of New York’s School of American Ballet to the stage of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, DANCING ACROSS BORDERS peeks behind the scenes into the world of dance and chronicles the intimate and triumphant story of a boy who was discovered, and who only much later discovered all that he had in himself.
Screens Saturday, April 20
"Duch, Masters of the Forges of Hell" (2012) 110min
Director: Rithy Panh
Countries: France/Cambodia
Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime caused the death of some 1.8 million people. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was in charge at M13 for four years before being appointed to the S21 centre in Phnom Penh where 12,280 people perished, according to the remaining archives. The first leader of the Khmer Rouge organization to be brought before an international criminal justice court, Rithy Panh records Duch’s unadorned words, without any trimmings, in the isolation of a face-to-face encounter. At the same time, he places it into perspective with archive pictures and eyewitness accounts of survivors. As the narrative unfolds, the infernal machine of a system of destruction of humanity implacably emerges, through a manic description of the minutiae of its mechanisms.
Screens Sunday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 24
Screening on Sunday, April 21 includes intro and Q&A with director Rithy Panh
"Five Lives" (2010) 93min
Directors: Various
Country: Cambodia
Five young Cambodian directors follow five lives in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. The films were produced during a documentary workshop led by world acclaimed director Rithy Panh.
Screens Thursday, April 23
Films include:
"A Blurred Way of Life" by Sopheak Sao
"I Can Be Who I Am" by Sarin Chhoun
"My Yesterday Night" by Lida Chan
"A Pedal Man" by Katank Yos,
"A Scale Boy" by Kavich Neang
"Golden Slumbers" (Le Sommeil d’Or) (2011) 96min
Director: Davy Chou
Countries: France/Cambodia
Davy Chou’s moving investigation of Cambodia’s lost cinematic heritage is an oral history with first-hand accounts of the emergence and flourishing of that country’s cinema in the 60’s as described by directors Lu Bun Yim, Ly You Sreang, former actress Dy Saveth, (the first Cambodian movie star, who now makes her living as a dance teacher), and two middle-aged Cambodian cinephiles who wax lyrical at a café about the glory years. The interviews are interspersed with visits to former Phnom Penh movie theaters that have been converted into Karaoke clubs and restaurants,
Screens Thursday, April 25
"The Land of the Wandering Souls" (La terre des ames errantes) (1999) 143min
Director: Rithy Panh
Countries: France/Cambodia
The documentary follows a group of workers who are laying a high-tech fiber optic cable that will link Cambodia to the rest of Asia and Europe. The project is a hopeful symbol of the country's slow integration into the world community and the modern technological age. However, for the people employed to actually dig the trench by hand -- a group of rice farmers, ex-soldiers, and their families, the poorest of the poor -- the work is a mixed blessing. This film provides a haunting glimpse into the lives of these indigent workers as they encounter the painful remnants of the past - mines, bones, and a landscaped littered with human suffering - and labor to bring Cambodia into the modern age.
Screens Saturday, April 20
Screening includes intro and Q&A with director Rithy Panh
"The Last Refuge" (2013) 55min
Directors: Anne-Laure Porée and Guillaume Soun
Country: Cambodia
THE LAST REFUGE follows the resistance of the Bunong, who have been living for centuries of the hills of eastern Cambodia, confronting alienation and annihilation by foreign companies who steal their lands, clear their sacred forests and their traditional cemeteries in order to cultivate rubber plants. In early 2010, a group of "resistants" took refuge on the land of their ancestors in the heart of the forest and recreated a field out of respect for traditional Bunong values.
Screens Tuesday, April 23
"Red Wedding" (2012) 58min
Directors: Noces Rouges, Lida Chan and Guillaume Soun
Country: Cambodia
The winner of the Best Mid-Length Documentary award at last year’s prestigious International Documentaries Film Festival Amsterdam, Red Wedding is the story of Sochan Pen, who has kept a terrible secret for over 30 years: that she was forced to marry a much older man, a soldier, by the Khmer Rouge at the age of 16 and then raped and beaten on her wedding night before she escaped. Four decades later, Sochan, who now grows rice in a former killing field (where decomposed bodies are still unearthed), brings her complaint to the UN-sanctioned Khmer Rouge Tribunal. In so doing, she speaks up for the 4000+ women who suffered similar fates during the regime and lived their lives in shame and terror. Produced by Rithy Panh.
Screens Monday, April 22
"A River Changes Course" (2012) 83min
Director: Kalyanee Mam
Country: Cambodia
Devastating scars are etched into the red earth as Sav Samourn ponders the future for her family in the deep jungles of Cambodia. Tumultuous waves pound against Sari Math’s boat as he navigates through waters being fished to extinction. The sewing machine taps and hums beneath Khieu Mok’s delicate fingers as she struggles to make money to pay off her family’s mounting debt. Against this backdrop A RIVER CHANGES COURSE is a cinematically spectacular and sensory journey into the lives of three young Cambodians and their families and an immersion into a world both distinctive and familiar.  In her feature directorial debut, Kalyanee Mam, the cinematographer for the Academy Award–winning documentary INSIDE JOB, explores the damage rapid development has wrought in her native Cambodia on both a human and environmental level. Rural communities, used to reaping the bounty of their mountainous jungles and lush rivers, have witnessed their forests being cleared, land becoming scarce and costly, and fishing stocks rapidly depleting. No longer able to provide for their families, and often accruing massive debt as a result, many Cambodians have been forced to leave their rural lives behind to seek employment in the industrial factories of Phnom Penh.
Screens Friday, April 19

"S21: The Khemer Rouge Death Machine" (2002) 101min
Director: Rithy Panh
Countries: France/Cambodia
In S21, Rithy Panh brings two survivors and former members of the Khmer Rouge back to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison (code-named "S21"), now a genocide museum. Painter Vann Nath confronts his former captors in the converted schoolhouse where he was tortured. It was by chance that he escaped that fate that most of the prison’s 17,000 men, women, and children suffered. The "crimes" of these prisoners were meticulously documented to justify their execution. The former Khmer Rouge guards respond to Nath's provocations with excuses, chilling stoicism or apparent remorse as they recount the atrocities they committed at ages as young as 12 years.
Screens Sunday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 24
Screening on Sunday, April 21 includes intro and Q&A with director Rithy Panh
"Where I Go" (2012) 55min
Director: Neang Kavich
Country: Cambodia
San Pattica is a mixed Cambodian-Cameroonian son whose father came to work in Cambodia in 1992-1993, during a period of the first election in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed. Since his parents left home for many years, Pattica was raised by his grandmother. However, she was forced to bring Pattica to study and live in an orphanage in Phnom Penh and Pattica was inspired to learn about his own identity by the discrimination he faced from day-to-day.
Screens Monday, April 22
Screening will include intro and Q&A with director Neang Kavich
Shorts Program (82min)

"The Granddaughters of Water" (2012) 12min
Director: Yann Cantais
Country: Cambodia
A delicate evocation of village life, shot in black and white. Children play, adults work, drink and prepare meals, while a grandfather silently sits on his porch and remembers the terrors of the past.
"Paulina" (2012) 30min
Director: Caylee So
Country: USA
17-year-old Paulina has found herself attracted to the game of bets and wagers; a love understood and shared by her father and a community of Cambodian gamblers. Met with strong disapproval from her sister Sopheap, Paulina remains tied to the community. But soon she finds herself in the midst of her father's war with addiction, and the realities of this world is unmasked; Paulina must choose between the world she is drawn to and the life she might someday want.
"Samsara" (1989) 29min
Director: Ellen Bruno
Country: USA
This meditative, quietly urgent study of common life in Cambodia in the aftermath of Pol Pot was the first film from documentarian Ellen Bruno (SATYA – A PRAYER FOR THE ENEMY, SKY BURIAL), who served as a relief worker in Southeast Asia before studying film at Stanford. SAMSURA, shot in 16mm by cinematographer Ellen Kuras, was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2012.
"Two Girls Against The Rain" (2013) 11min
Director: Sopheak Sao
Country: Cambodia
The latest documentary shory from filmmaker Sopheak Sao is about Soth Yun and Sem Eang, two women who met during the Khmer Rouge regime and fell in love. Their bond has survived years of forced separation, first by the government and then by their families, and an ongoing struggle for respect within the community of Takeo in southern Cambodia. Screened in the Panorama section of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

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