Cambodian Film Sector Looks to Tap ASEAN, Chinese Markets

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Cambodian filmmakers are contributing to a regional conversation on the need for increased cooperation between local and foreign producers, amid moves by China to join with ASEAN countries to promote the Asian film market. Having secured solid cooperation from China, the plan now is for ASEAN members to start producing joint film projects. The feeling is that the elements are all in place and that the time is now right for such a development. 
 
The proposed film exchange plan aims not only to promote the film sector, but also to use the medium to promote cross-cultural understanding and awareness of local conditions among ASEAN members; in other words, to facilitate the development of the ASEAN Economic Community through film.
 
Speaking at an ASEAN Film Week (AFW) event in Xi’an, China last week, Yang Xiuping, secretary general of the ASEAN-China Center, said China’s film industry had played a very important role in the country’s cultural development and served as a crucial bridge to facilitate cultural exchanges as people all over the world are now watching its films. 
 
“Recently, the Chinese film industry has made great progress. At the same time, ASEAN countries are attaching much importance to film’s role in developing cultural industries including film and animation. We hope the AFW will not only help introduce the Chinese people to ASEAN’s rich culture, but also provide a new platform that both sides can use to learn from each other,” Ms. Xiuping said. 
 
Chum Chandorn, a producer at Khmer Mekong Films who attended AFW, said the event provided Cambodia with a golden opportunity to take a step toward promoting its culture, economy and lifestyle on the international stage. 
 
In his view, one important step Cambodia could take in this direction would be to look to the international market, adding that China should be viewed as a key target country in this regard. China has a film-going audience of millions that Cambodia should be seeking a foothold in as a way to secure large international audiences for its films. 
 
“We need to make more commercial movies. We need to increase the box office figures for our films in order to generate more income,” he said.  
 
China has the world’s second-largest film market after the US. Last year its box office took in approximately $6 billion. 
 
“We really want to move into ASEAN countries; we also want to tap the Western market. But I think that now, even the Western film market is looking to ASEAN. I have noticed that Western films are incorporating more Chinese characters,” Mr. Chandorn added. 
 
A starting point for ASEAN film 
 
Zhou Tiedong, a former general manager of China Film Promotion International and a reviewer for China Film Group, said the best way to achieve cooperation between Cambodia and other ASEAN countries on breaking into the Chinese film market is to promote a higher level of international cooperation and coproduction. “Lost in Thailand,” a highly successful Chinese production filmed in Thailand, was an example of the cooperation that is possible between China and individual ASEAN members.
 
“I think we can work together because we share the same, very common stories and similar locales. I think you [Cambodia] should adopt policies to attract Chinese film crews to come to Cambodia to make films and use locations in Cambodia,” he said. 
 
“Cambodia and China can either cooperate or coproduce. Another way to approach the Chinese film market is by selling Cambodian films to China,” Mr. Tiedong said, adding that cooperation at the governmental level is also needed, as state agencies play an important role in making joint venture films happen. 
 
China currently imposes a quota of 34 foreign films a year. However, Mr. Zhou said that plans are afoot to abandon the quota system in the near future in order to cater to its huge cinema audience. 
 
Every foreign film distributed in China needs to meet censorship standards imposed by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) of China. Citizens of ASEAN countries can contact the ASEAN-China Center, the official facilitator of joint work projects involving ASEAN countries and China.
 
Every foreign film that enters China must meet censorship standards imposed by China’s State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). Citizens of ASEAN member countries can contact the ASEAN-China Center, the official facilitator of joint work projects involving ASEAN countries and China. 
 
Athidxay Bouandaoheuang, a producer at Lao New Wave Cinema Production and manager of the Doklao Media Centre, said Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia had already developed a film-industry plan, which is due to take effect in 2017. 
 
“An Indonesian director has already informed Laos and Cambodia that in 2017…. we will have something together by 2017. It could involve exchanging actors in an action or romantic movie,” he said, adding that this would enhance technical cooperation in terms of skills and people. 
 
“It is possible, if we can visit one another’s countries to shoot films and develop stories together. The stories must be linked to each others’ stories,” he added. 
 
He said ASEAN needed to come together, adding that it would be off to a good start if the member countries learned about each others’ culture, lifestyle, working habits, food and also the languages. He stressed that the most important thing in the plan to exchange actors was budget saving. 
 
“We can get actors from neighboring countries to come and act in our country,” said Mr. Bouandaoheuang, who added that the host country won’t need to pay huge sums for the whole film crew to shoot in another country. 
 
“It is like a starting point for each country for future collaboration. Once an actor becomes well known, for example, in Laos, so his/her film will be able to make more profits from future films,” he said adding that currently Thai actors are the most popular foreign actors among Laotian people. 
 
According to statista.com, there were 5,813 movie theaters and 24,317 screens in China in 2014. The most targeted audiences were young people aged from 18 to 25 years old. And the most popular movie genres were action, comedy and romance. 
 
Cambodia has only four prominent cinemas and approximately 20 screens, all located in the capital. Laos has only two cinemas and four screens. The targeted audiences and hit movie genres in these countries are quite similar: mainly high school and university students below 30 years old, and action and comedy, respectively. 
 
Cambodian perspective
 
A romantic film from Cambodia, “Price of Love,” attracted international attention during the AFW in China. Mr. Athidxay said he planned to bring this movie to screen at the next movie festival in Laos. He added that the movie chronicles relationships that would be familiar to both Cambodian and Laotian people. 
 
“Lao people need to know the situation not only in their own country, but also in the other countries. It is not only in film, but also in terms of the AEC; we have to come together. It is also an easy way for Lao people to learn that there is more to the civilization of Cambodia than the Khmer Rouge,” Mr. Athidxay said. 
 
He learned that Cambodian filmmakers possess strong technical skills, whereas Lao filmmakers are somewhat below this level. 
 
“The Missing Picture,” a Cambodian-French documentary film about the Khmer Rouge, was directed by Rithy Panh and released in 2013. It was an Oscar nominee in 2014 and won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. 
 
However, Mr. Chandron said that storyline and script writing issues still present a big gap for Cambodia to overcome. Cambodia needs to improve its human resources. The country has great landscapes for setting films in, such as Angkor Wat, beautiful mountains and forests that still looks very natural. But it still needs to build human resources if it is to make movies that inspire international audiences. 
 
There is strong filmmaking potential in Cambodia, he said, but talents in the field of script writing–a key part of the process–is lacking.  
 
“What I think now is that if we want to catch attention from China, we should have experts from China conduct workshops for young filmmakers as well as writers,” Mr. Chandorn said.  
 
“We can still improve ourselves if we have someone to train us. The department of cinematography also did a good job of inviting film experts from abroad to help training young filmmakers,” he said.
 
He said that if filmmakers want to make a film for a Chinese audience, they need to devise a storyline that is acceptable to Chinese people. It is an adventure for the filmmaker. Cambodian filmmakers have a long way to go and many things to do before the movie industry here reaches world standards. 
 
“From my experience of more than 10 years in the film sector, I see that we still need good writers. You must have good story ideas. Cambodia has already produced a lot of good films, but they have been mainly educational films and documentaries,” he added.  
 
When you have a good writer and a good storyline, you can send a proposal seeking investment by other film companies or international film partners, for example China. 
 

Ruan Huai Lei Huang Yibin Tan Lay Ching (Aileen Tan)  Neo Chee Keong ( Jack Neo)  Ruan Yong gang  Hong Ching Chiew (Wang Lei)  Li Jiaman. Supplied
 

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