Cambodia’s leap at Oscars

Ouk Sovanlyda / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
(Left to right) Film directors Manish Sharma and Sok Visal, with members of the COSC Sar Kessara, Chairperson Mariam Arthur, Cécile Malterre and an assistant at Bophana Centre during the announcement of Cambodia’s film nomination for the Oscars. Supplied

What it takes to put the face of Cambodian films on the global map of cinema

THE vote-winning film, In the life of music, was officially chosen to be submitted to the International Feature Film Award category as the sole nomination to become the face of Cambodia at the 92nd Oscars ceremony in 2020. Applause echoed in the room when the winner was announced at the Bophana Centre, Ouk Sovanlyda was there to witness the celebration and recorded remarks made by the director last Friday regarding his journey in the making of the film and what it means to actually win.

The heart-wrenching film was co-directed by Caylee So and Visal Sok. Set during desperate times of war, the story took place in Battambang mimicking lives before the infamous Khmer Rouge Regime, amidst the war and the aftermath.

It was written based on collective scenarios that happened to Cambodian people who suffered the brunt of a civil war. It heavily and brilliantly intertwines loss, love, and healing through the medium of music together to create an impactful story surrounding a well-cherished song written by Sinn Sisamouth entitled “Champa Battambang”.

The second film that made it past the first round of voting was Baokchambab. Written and directed by Manish Sharma, the film which tackles the life of a real Cambodian wrestler, lost the vote to In the life of Music by 3.4 points in the final round.

Despite winning the vote from the Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee (COSC). Visal Sok viewed this achievement as more than just mere victory. The director expressed his sincere gratitude by delving on the impact it can make to the Cambodian film industry.He displays his interest in allowing his victory to be a symbol and a stepping stone for Cambodian filmmakers to have the platform recognised under an international scope.

He aims to leave an imprint that carves a path for fellow Cambodian films to be nominated and achieved recognition by global audiences.

“What I know is first of all, it’s good for the country, good for the Cambodian film industry. It shows that if we are accepted and nominated for the Oscars, it means that our film (In the life of music) has reached a standard that the world film industry accepts and regard as their standard.

“The second thing is if our film is nominated by the Oscars representing Cambodia, I guess it could only be good for the producers, filmmakers, directors because our name would be out there. Somehow or some way, it would be easier for us in the future to produce more films, find more budget, and easier to get co-producers on our next projects.”

Mr Visal Sok, a co-director of ‘In the Life of Music’ at the Bophana Center last Friday, seen here delving on the impact it can make to the Cambodian film industry. Supplied

If the film does get nominated for the Oscars, Mariam Arthur, Chair at the COSC, spoke of the sales benefit the producers could be profiting when his films are reviewed by the world.

“Being considered for the submission from Cambodia, the recognition will help you with international film sales, so when you try to sell this movie for the rights to other countries, you can get more money.

When asked later by a reporter during a Q&A session if the director is willing to show In the life of music for free on the cable.

The 48-year-old director answered with a tone of seriousness, elaborating the extent he is inclined to go if it ensures his craft is able to reach the mass audiences.

“It’s always possible, but usually playing your film on TV arrives at the last stage of the life of that film. After it has released officially in the cinema and goes on playing around the world then after that we can consider selling it to a smaller platform (like TV) or having it played on local TVs which is essentially possible. Actually, we would even play for free if needed to, so we could reach mass audiences.”

Though having released the films which hit the local cinemas for seven days, to their surprise there are moviegoers out there that the popularity of In the life of music and BaokChambab haven’t reached. Indeed, when a reporter asked the directors if they planned on showcasing their films locally, the director of Baokchambab responded:

“The thing is we are talking about the Oscars. We talk about (whether) Cambodia’s name will enter international level, this and that, but the first thing is we need to do is to spread awareness to the local movie-goers first about the cinemas. You all don’t know about when In the life of music or when Baokchambab comes and goes.

“So, the most important part is (for) the film industry and the press (to) work together, make people aware about it. Now, it’s gone from the cinemas. So we are sending a movie to the Oscars and we are competing for Oscars submission, but nobody knows except the COSC.”Not all films are qualified to be worth a nomination at the Oscars. Behind the scenes of it all is a thorough process of elimination before a film is deemed worthy of a nomination or even go further as to win an Oscar.

Even prior to earning votes from the COSC committee, the committee demanded that a film must check all the boxes, in which In the life of music has surpassed.

The brief press conference wrapped up with a photo session and hopeful optimism that the Cambodian film industry can take a hyper-leap onto the international stage.

With great enthusiasm, the director was greeted with cheer and endless congratulations, wishful words of being nominated for the Oscars and winning the award in 2020.

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