Between 1960 and 1975, Cambodia’s film industry produced more than 400 features. But the ascension of the Khmer Rouge brought an abrupt halt to the Cambodian motion picture industry. The creative talent involved in filmmaking either fled into exile or were arrested and killed by the Khmer Rouge; many of the films were destroyed or became lost during this period.
Davy Chou’s documentary offers a poignant glimpse into the halcyon days of Cambodian cinema – which is no mean feat, considering there is very little footage available to recall the triumphs of this period. Directors Ly Bun Yim, Ly You Sreang and Yvon Hem join one-time leading lady Dy Saveth in discussing the distinctive challenges of building a national film industry.
Despite its considerable output, the Cambodian film world was relatively limited, with many actors working together in multiple productions. Many of the films focused either on mild melodrama or horror/science-fiction inspired by Cambodian folklore, and musical interludes permeated nearly every work. Today, however, it seems that many young Cambodians are indifferent to this lost cinematic heritage, and the once-grand movie palaces of the capital city Phnom Penh are either dilapidated or transformed into other venues.
Poster art, publicity stills and snippets of soundtrack music offer clues to the quality of the missing cinematic contents, and several elderly movie buffs can still cite the factoids of their favorite films. But, ultimately, this barely fills the void created by the Khmer Rouge’s destructiveness, and Chou’s work serves as a tragic reminder of the ephemeral nature of both popular culture and life.