Ten years ago, a New Zealand couple Martin and Jeanette Robinson found a two-storey pre-Khmer Rouge villa on St 95 which they turned into an air-conditioned movie-screening space with a tiny bar on the second floor. They made do with a DVD player they found in Russian Market, playing a handful of films in their collection on repeat.
This was a time when entertainment in the city was scarce and nightlife activities were limited to only drinking and dining. People, especially the expatriates, were always looking for something fun to do. So did Dutch entrepreneur Ramon Stoppelenburg, when he first stepped foot into the country in 2011.
“It was nice because the source of entertainment in Phnom Penh was limited. There were no shopping malls…not even escalators in the whole country. This place was somewhere the expatriates could go to. When I first came here I thought the whole idea was so cool
“But there was more that could be done. I kept pestering the couple about having a movie schedule, having a Facebook page, having a website because I know this could turn into something really good,” Stoppelenburg told Good Times2.
In March 2011, the Robinsons put the community theatre up for sale and this was Stoppelenburg’s golden opportunity to take over. After an online fundraising effort, the villa was transferred to his name. Over the years, he had revamped it into a fully-functioning movie hall that can now fit 32 people.
“So yeah, their baby grew up to be something that is 10 years old now. It has changed a lot. We renovated the lobby, painted it nicely, we put the terrace outside and we turned the interior into this comfy waiting area for our customers,” he said, with a satisfied smile on his face.
Today, The Flicks is proud to be the only independent movie theater in Phnom Penh that brings you blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films and international film festival winners on the big screen for only $4 per day.
There is also a lot that goes into the movie selection which is personally curated by Stoppelenburg himself.
“I like everything, especially quirky foreign films. If I can put on films that blow other people’s minds and make them think about less-talked about social issues, for instance, then why not.
“I always try to find a middle way between what my audience wants and what I personally want to put out. Sometimes I like to tease and surprise them a little bit by throwing in the most unexpected film in the mix, like this five-hour Chinese film that won several international awards.
“We won’t get the regulars coming in for that but with a little push on Facebook by posting trailers, information, and poster, a handful might be intrigued and decided to spend five hours at The Flicks. It’s worth it,” he said.
Stoppelenburg said the main difference between paying $4 at The Flicks and the big cinemas is the one-of-a-kind experience that they offer.
“It is a bargain to come here. If you have a free day, spend $4 for the entries to all movies showing that day. We can order from our partner, Brooklyn Pizza, if you are hungry, you can also get a big bowl of popcorn for only $2.50 – and I can’t stress enough that we make the best popcorn in town – so you are set for an enjoyable experience.
“The Flicks is a community theatre. Not another multiplex where you are treated as a nobody. Here, you constantly have people behind the bar welcoming you with a smile. It’s almost like a little piece of home away from home,” he said.
If you are a regular at The Flicks, you would also notice that the place will not be manned by the same faces for more than two weeks. This is because The Flicks is fully run by volunteers which Stoppelenburg personally handpicked from an international exchange service called Workaway.info.
The volunteers come from all over the world and they typically help out at The Flicks for a minimum of two weeks, in exchange for free accommodation.
“In the beginning, I was behind the bar every day until I realised there is a better way to go about this. I looked it up online and stumbled upon the website. I also realised when you have one fully-trained volunteer, that person can then train the next ones coming in. Now, we have a perfect system ongoing.
“I provide a checklist for them, what to do, what not to do, how to open and close, who to call when things go wrong, etc. I don’t have to be home, I don’t have to be in the city, I don’t even have to be in the country for The Flicks to have a smooth operation.”
Unfortunately, The Flicks will cease operation in May 2022. According to its website: “The landlord is oblivious about The Flicks and wants to sell his land to the next upcoming property developer. The Flicks will probably be a high-rise condo in 2025. That’s okay, we had our fun!”
When asked, Stoppelenburg chuckled and agreed. He said while he had a lot of fun operating The Flicks over the past eight and a half years, he has no intention of personally continuing the legacy when the lease is up.
“Someone else can do it. I think it is time for me to move on to other things. I like traveling a lot so I want to see other parts of the world to find a new project that I could work on. Exciting times ahead,” he said, never without a smile on his face.
Those interested in finding out more about The Flicks, can head on over to their official website. If you wish to receive the weekly schedules in your mailbox, you can also sign up for The Flicks weekly newsletter.