It’s hard to imagine that anyone in Siem Reap failed to notice last month’s premier of First They Killed My Father, the much-anticipated screen adaptation of Loung Ung’s book of the same name.
Not only was the film co-directed by self-confessed lover of Cambodia Angelina Jolie, but the premier screening took place at Angkor Archaeological Park, of course, and was attend by Ms Jolie, her family, many of the film’s actors and crew, and none other than His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni.
Much of First They Killed My Father was shot in Temple Town, and both the filming and release of the movie have been constant topics of conversation in Siem Reap for more than a year.
The movie has, thanks largely to Angelina’s involvement, also attracted global attention to Khmer cinema, and is likely to be the first time many people see anything shot in the Kingdom. I sincerely hope it encourages movie-lovers to explore other offerings from Cambodia’s burgeoning cinema scene, and to whet your appetite here’s a few of my recent favourites.
Poppy Goes to Hollywood was released in April of last year, and follows the story of a transphobic young man forced to turn to his transgender sister in a moment of desperation. While generally falling in the comedy category, Poppy Goes to Hollywood is well written, beautifully directed by Sok Visal, and blessed with a filming quality not often seen in Khmer cinema.
Some of the humour is admittedly a touch hammy, but there are also a number of brave innuendoes which are – I am assured – pretty boundary-pushing for Cambodian cinema. There is also clearly, and endearingly, an underlying educational ambition to this movie (namely the importance of inclusion and compassion), which for me only made it better.
Another favourite is The Last Reel, which was released in November 2015. This is another Khmer movie blessed with a high filming quality and thoughtful directing, and explores the tensions between Khmer Rouge survivors struggling with ghosts of the past and the younger generation looking for a way to move forwards. Heart-wrenching at times, but definitely worth a night in.
Lastly, I can’t not mention Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten. While this is a documentary, shot in various countries and largely in English, this is a labour of love that should not be overlooked by anyone with even a vague interest in Cambodia, Khmer culture or 20th century music.
Weaving tales of rock ‘n’ roll with the unfolding of horror in 1970s Phnom Penh, this documentary is both fascinating and heart-breaking in equal measures.