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A Completely Cambodian Production - Interview with Rithy Panh

By: James Dingle Posted: December-26-2011 in
A Still from Shiiku (The Catch)
James Dingle

The arrival of the 2nd Cambodian International Film Festival in Phnom Penh last week saw 90 films on show for free, over five days, at five different venues. One film, “The Catch”, from Cambodian Director Rithy Panh is a successful reinterpretation of a novella by Kenzaburo Oe, written in 1957. Whereas the book was set in Japan in WWII, the film tells the story of a black American pilot, crash landing in rural Cambodia in 1972 and being captured by the Khmer Rouge. Panh deftly does justice to the material generating a good pace and eliciting consistently good performances from a cast led mainly by children with no previous acting experience. The children are put in charge of ‘the enemy’ as a test of their loyalty to Angkar. As the story unfolds, so the indoctrinated orphaned leader finds it difficult to keep control. The experienced Director Rithy Panh attended the premiere and James Dingle went to meet him.

What do you think of the Cambodian Film Festival?
Good. I like it. We have to do more for next year and little by little it will get better. It is also important for the people to try and open up cinema as a medium. If you have an audience, maybe cinema can work and the industry can work. At the moment it’s not enough to make films, you must create an industry if you want cinema to grow and to root in this country.

What do you think the biggest challenge to the Cambodian film industry is?
Good technicians and good scriptwriters. Finding a good story to shoot. We have some young directors and we have to train actors and actresses.

What made you choose this story?
I thought there were some good parallels with the original 1957 Kenzaburo Oe story and I thought we could set the story in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge rather than WWII Japan.

What hurdles did you face in the production of the film?
I wanted to make this film with a completely Cambodian team. We shot it in Khmer language and with no star, just Cyril Guei [actor who plays US pilot] who came from Europe. We have never produced a film in this way so there were some challenges along the way.


Did the children find the material difficult?

No, they were great. They understand very, very quickly what we are doing.

You also have a history of making documentaries?
It depends on what happens. Sometimes I make a few documentaries and then I make a feature. I have a lot of Cambodian memories.

What made you want to be a Director?
I don’t know. Maybe an accident! One time somebody gave me a small camera and I started to filming when I was 15 or 16 and I’ve been making films ever since. I enjoy telling stories but then maybe I should have been a writer?!

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This article was published in Issue #4 of The Advisor
3000 copies printed weekly and distributed in hard copy around town to local venues and also available here for downloads in the archives.
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