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Culture Minister: Film Production Booms in Cambodia

Nou Sotheavy and James Brooke / Khmer Times Share:
Minister of Culture Sackona Phoeurng is looking to promote film production in the Kingdom, present a new image of Cambodia to the world, and protect ancient artifacts. (KT Photo: Nou Sotheavy)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – It has been a decade since Angelina Jolie and the Tomb Raider movie franchise introduced Cambodia to international audiences, and the Kingdom’s film industry is now reaping the benefits.

The number of movies made in Cambodia has tripled and the number of days worked by film technicians has jumped eight-fold, Cambodia’s culture minister Sackona Phoeurng told the Khmer Times in a wide-ranging interview.

“In 2009, we had only 15 films shot in Cambodia,” Ms. Phoeurng said in her office at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, on Norodom Boulevard. “But film production increased in 2012 to 55 projects.”

During the same period, the number of days worked by Cambodia film professionals soared, from 3,500 in 2009 to 28,000 in 2012, the most recent year on record. The number of film technicians has increased five-fold, from 40 in 2009, to 200 today.

French Money for Film Commission

The minister said the setting up of the Cambodia Film Commission, a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 2009 with the Culture Ministry’s support and French funding, was instrumental in boosting the Kingdom’s movie industry. In August, the French Development Agency agreed to give the Commission nearly $2 million in additional funding, largely for training Cambodian film professionals and for promoting Cambodian locations for filming.

Cambodian actors and directors are pressuring the government to impose quotas for a minimum amount of Cambodian films to be shown on TV and in movie theatres.

Responding to this pressure, the minister said: “Every film played here in the cineplexes [Aeon, Legend, Platinum], has a percentage of Khmer movies at about 10 percent already. If we observe the TV channels, 10 to 15 percent of the productions are made in Cambodia.”

“Quotas are under discussion,” she said, referring to talks between her ministry and the Ministry of Information, which regulates television channels. An experiment with quotas in the 1990s was abandoned due to the lack of good quality films.

To support Cambodian films, the minister noted that the government provides a building in Phnom Penh to house the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, the nation’s primary repository of Cambodian films. In addition, next year the ministry will start producing a daily, 15-minute program on Cambodian culture for use by National Television of Kampuchea, or TVK, the national public broadcasting channel.

Dance and Song for Foreign Audiences

Turning to foreign audiences, Ms. Phoeurng said she focuses on shifting world attention from the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s to promoting a more appealing face of “the New Cambodia.” For this she promotes sending troupes to perform Khmer classical dance on Western stages and teachers of  Khmer traditional song to diaspora groups in the United States.

She said another target for promotion is Khmer cuisine, a food heavily overshadowed in the West by Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. 

Next month, the Culture Ministry plans to submit an application for a third Cambodian historic site to be listed as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO, the Paris-based cultural organization. At present, the temple complexes at Angkor Wat and at Preah Vihear are Cambodia’s entries on the list.

The ministry’s candidate for the nation’s third listing is Sambor Prei Kuk, a temple 30 kilometers north of Kampong Thom. Next in line for a nomination will be Banteay Chhmar, a temple surrounded by a moat, a reservoir and largely covered in forest, 150 kilometers northwest of Angkor Wat.

Located only 20 kilometers from the Thai border, Banteay Chhmar temple has been the targeted by looters in the past. In 1998, soldiers stole sandstone bas reliefs that had survived almost intact for 1,000 years.

To counter thefts, Ms. Phoeurng said that next year she would introduce a systematic, nationwide inventory of Cambodia’s cultural artifacts.

“Although we have a lot of cultural sites, we have not recorded them all yet, so our first priority is to do complete an inventory of archeological tangibles and intangibles, meaning not only temples, but also music, drama and other aspects of Khmer culture,” she said. “If we have it listed, we can help protect something from being stolen, we can send the information to Interpol if it is taken outside the country.”

Such a computerized inventory, accessible to auction houses, customs officials and police around the world would push Cambodia’s tomb raiders firmly into the realm of 21st century fiction. 

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