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Interview: Sophie's Choices

By: Charley Bolding-Smith Posted: January-26-2011 in
Sophie Hughes
Charley Bolding-Smith

The Word - Vietnam’s what’s on guide - recently named Future Shorts (FS) local dynamo Sophie Hughes as their Woman of the Year. In the accompanying article, the writer mentioned that, as indication of the concept’s growing popularity, around 35 people were turned away from a recent HCMC event. He didn’t tell you that I was one of them. Future Shorts has taken off in Vietnam big time. Now they want to turn us away from arts venues in Cambodia, with the first edition showing at the Meta House last Saturday. “It wasn’t my choice!” Sophie laughed when I told her this, “The manager of the venue wasn't sure how much more weight the floor would hold - health and safety is alive and kicking in HCMC!”

I’d seen Sophie before, at events they actually let me into. Well, at least glimpsed a blur of Sophie-behind-the-scenes bustle, and her short but instructive introduction to FS (for the uninitiated, it's a global monthly short film festival, giving local filmmakers the opportunity for their work to be screened on a worldwide platform). But I’d not actually chatted to her. Where’s she from anyway? “I grew up in London and moved to Oxfordshire when I was twelve - my Mum had had enough of the big city! Then I lived in Newcastle for seven years.” Well, that accounts for her choice of South East Asia anyway – it’s a lot warmer here than in the North East of England!

Presumably she has an arts background? “Yes, I went to Art College in Winchester at first” she confirmed, “although, at the time, the emphasis was heavily on conceptual art, and no actual skills were being taught - I wasn't learning anything”. She decided to study Sociology at Nottingham. Well, someone’s got to. Turns out though, it wasn’t Sophie. “After the first lecture on the Welfare State and Margaret Thatcher I knew it wasn't for me! I spent the next five months trying to change my course.” Keeping up at the back? What next? “I re-applied to Newcastle where I did a split degree of Drawing and Religious Studies, specialising in New Religious Movements, Millenarianism and Shamanism.” I got her to spell Millenarianism out for me.

Fortunately for us, Sophie chose not to participate in coming major religious, political or social transformations of society (unless you count FS among the latter). “I’ve worked in the arts since leaving University. I’m particularly interested in the worlds that it can open to marginalised and vulnerable individuals” she explained.

The return ticket
Why did Sophie choose Vietnam? “I moved to London just as the economic crisis took hold. It had a major impact on arts funding in UK. I had a holiday booked to come to Vietnam for Tet in 2009, and when I looked at my tickets I couldn't work out why I was getting on that return flight! The gamble paid off because I was managing a pioneering contemporary art gallery within weeks of arriving.”

I can remember an early sighting of her at the Bobby Brewer’s coffee ‘n movie chain. “When I got to HCMC I was lost without my Indie film events, and knew I had to do something about it.” Quite a few of us here are passionate cineastes, but we don’t go off and start a regional film sensation. How did that come about? “On a trip back to the UK I mentioned to a friend of a friend of a friend who worked with FS at Glastonbury Festival that I wanted to set up a cinema club, and she said you've got to meet FS. I had a few hours to spare before my flight back to Vietnam and met the Global producer, and it all began.”

No limits
So, what’s happened with FS since I got turned away from that HCMC gig? “In November I took on the full-time role of Director of Development for FS in South East Asia. We screen in Manila, Jakarta, HCMC, Hanoi, and now Phnom Penh. I’m really excited about FS coming to Cambodia. Phnom Penh has a vibrant arts scene, and there are active members of the community who are initiating arts and film projects”. This writer was most impressed by the documentary on Smot, a uniquely Khmer form of sung verse, now struggling to survive in modernizing Cambodia. Made in conjunction with Meta House, we were lucky to have the filmmaker Neang Kavich in the audience. “We’re providing a platform for local filmmakers to have their work seen all over the region” says Sophie, “Local work shown at our events is passed on to the FS office in London, and could be selected for the global programme.” Kavich’s film certainly deserves to be.

Why does she think the concept has proved so popular? “The simple reason is that the genre is bold, thought provoking, and exciting - it opens small windows into other realities we would never otherwise have access to.”

Is FS for residents of Phnom Penh only? What about Siem Reap? “There are no limits to where FS can be screened. We are currently looking for a team of people based in Cambodia to work with us in developing FS Cambodia, and realise its potential, including other elements such as music and performance at the events.”

That’s all very well Sophie, but some of us actually enjoy being able to get into venues like the Meta House, rather than be turned away. Indie film goers in the city, you have been warned…

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