Often, in discussions about Southeast Asian cinema, Cambodia is overlooked, or pauses at the oeuvre of the country’s living master Rithy Panh. Now, Panh’s work is justly celebrated. Having seen his family suffer under the brutal Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Panh became a well-known chronicler of the regime’s atrocities. Take a look at some of his recent work, his 2013 film The Missing Picture won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, and also scored an Oscar nomination. He served as a producer on First They Killed My Father (2017), directed by Angelina Jolie, while Graves Without A Name was Cambodia’s entry to the Oscars last year.
Emerging in Cambodia from under the massively benign shadow cast by Panh is young outfit Anti-Archive. Set up in 2014 by Davy Chou, Steve Chen and Kavich Neang, with Park Sungho joining in 2016, the company is a veritable hothouse for emerging Cambodian talent. Much of their work is celebrated around the world. Chou’s terrific Diamond Island (2016) looks at new Cambodia from the point of view of teenage construction workers who can ill afford the fancy condominium they are helping build. The film won the SACD award at Cannes, the Grand Prix at Cabourg and best film at our own Mumbai film festival.
White Building , set in the edifice of the same name, is Neang’s dream project. A real-life building in Phnom Penh that housed a community of artists in the 1960s and 70s, it fell into disrepair and became notorious for sex workers and drug addicts. Neang, who was born in the building, wanted to set a fiction feature in the building, but it was demolished. Undeterred, Neang documented the demolition process, resulting in the documentary Last Night I Saw You Smiling which won the Netpac award at Rotterdam earlier this year and is currently on the festival circuit. Plans are still on for the White Building fiction feature.
Anti-Archive is also nurturing a generation of young women filmmakers. One of them, Danech San debuted with the short A Million Years . The film was the toast of the short film circuit last year, winning, amongst others, the Arte short film award at Hamburg, best Southeast Asian short at Singapore, and festival play at Busan, IndieLisboa and Rotterdam. The mesmerising film begins with a woman recounting her past experiences at a riverside restaurant and soon enters a surreal space where notions of time, space and reality are challenged.
Much like Lao New Wave Cinema Productions in neighbouring Laos, Anti-Archive is set up as a collective with everybody pitching in on almost every project. For example, San served as production manager on Last Night I Saw You Smiling and as an assistant on the short California Dreaming .
Meanwhile, if you are in the process of accessing these films, head over to Netflix and catch Jimmy Henderson’s slick 2017 movie Jailbreak for a quick primer on Cambodian cinema. The film is awash in the ancient and visceral Khmer martial art L’bokator.