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Cambodian Movies Shine in Venice

Phnom Penh: Two Cambodian films have been screened at this year’s 78th Venice Film Festival. 600 movies from 75 countries were sent in for consideration, but only 92 were selected for the competition. The Cambodian films are “White Building”, directed by Kavich Neang and the country’s first ever sci-fi movie, “Karmalink”, directed by Jack Wachtel. Both directors managed to find some time in their premiere agenda in Venice, to talk to EAC News.

“White Building” has already been pre-selected to represent Cambodia at the Oscar’s in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category. It’s set in what was one of the most well-known housing projects in Phnom Penh, built in the 1960s by Khmer and Russian architects, Lu Ban Hap and Vladimir Bodiansky. It was the country’s first urban-lifestyle complex for lower- and middle-class Cambodians, when the capital’s population boomed from 400 thousand to a million inhabitants. By 2014, however, the government had made the decision that the dilapidated buildings would be demolished.

The movie is set at that time. It tells the story of 20-year-old Samnang facing the prospect of gentrification, with his lifelong home set to be demolished. Pressure from family and neighbors also arise. The director himself, Kavich Neang, grew up in the building. We asked him how he felt knowing that the film will represent the country at the Academy Awards:

“For me I am very thrilled and excited that my first featured film has been chosen for Cambodian Oscar. It’s an honor for me and the team. It’s so touching and meaningful. And also, to have the film premiered in Venice. And to be the first Cambodian to have been at the official selection, I feel so proud.”

The second Khmer movie screened at Venice is “Karmalink”, set in a dystopian-futuristic Phnom Penh with Buddhist beliefs. The main character is a 13-year-old boy called Leng Heng who has vivid dreams of his past lives. Together with his friends, he finds a technological tool that could help him to deeper into those dreams. Californian director, Jack Wachtel, told EAC News that in an unexpected way, the pandemic helped the production of the film’s visual effects:

“We kind of got lucky with the pandemic hit when we started the visual effects. That allows us to take a deep breath and spend a lot more times on visual effects than we were originally planning to. The visual effects took a long time for this movie. We put a lot of work into it we did a lot of video rendering.”

He says he’s excited for the Cambodian public to see the film:

“It feels very special when you get to see on the big screen, because of the effects. We did a strong work on the sound design, you can feel the base. And you can feel it surrounding you in the theater. You can see the skyscrapers, you can see the element of reality in the big screen. That something I think it’s going to be very exciting.”

The Venice Festival ends on Saturday. With movie-houses closed in Cambodia, it’s not known when the two movies will be released in the kingdom.

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