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See the dream: "Lost Loves" screening at Meta House Sunday

By: Jeffrey Staggs Posted: July-30-2011 in
Chhay Bora directing his feature film "Lost Loves"
Jeffrey Staggs

Making a film is difficult. Getting it into theaters where people can see it can be even harder, as local director Chhay Bora is learning.

"My dream was to be a filmmaker," says Mr. Chhay. The dream was hatched when he was a student at the Fine Arts University, 25 years ago.

Last year that dream became a reality, with the completion of Mr. Chhay's feature film "Lost Loves." He directed and produced the movie, which was co-written with his wife, Kauv Sotheary. She also stars in the film, as her mother, Nun Sila. The film chronicles the family's suffering in a Khmer Rouge labor camp. The title refers to the family members who did not survive.

Mr. Chhay, 47, will attend a screening of the film at Meta House Sunday at 7 pm. The $5 ticket price ($1 for Khmer students) includes one drink and will be used to raise funds for the film's international distribution.

He and his wife met in 1982. Both received government scholarships to study abroad. She studied in Ukraine. He went to Bulgaria to study economics, not film. They married in Bulgaria in 1991. After returning to Cambodia he taught marketing at the Royal University of Phnom Penh until 2007. Now he owns the Tour Asia Cambodia travel agency.

His dream, while deferred, did not wither. He taught himself how to make movies by downloading videos, looking at photos and watching local film crews "from a distance". The film was paid for out-of-pocket, at a cost of $120,000 – and counting.

By all accounts the film is beautiful, emotional and well-made. "The production value is very up-market," says Meta House director Nico Mesterharm. He admires Mr. Chhay's "skill and originality" in making the film on a limited budget, especially in Cambodia. Quite simply, there isn't much of a film industry here.

"Making a film is very risky," Mr. Chhay says. "It's hard to make money." He notes that local film production companies "have stopped producing films. They focus on karaoke."

Mr. Chhay spent most of his life planning and making the film. Now the problem is getting into places where people can see it. Shopping it to film festivals, where studios and agents can see it, has to be done on his own time and at his own expense. Cambodia doesn't have an infrastructure for feature film distribution yet, which is just one reason "Lost Loves" is the first Cambodian feature film about the Khmer Rouge in 25 years.

"It is possibly the only Cambodian film about the Khmer Rouge that will ever be seen outside Cambodia," says Mr. Mesterharm, who helped arrange a screening of the film at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

Meta House regularly shows films about the Khmer Rouge, virtually all of them documentaries produced by foreign NGOs. Cambodians, however, don't like documentaries, according to Mr. Chhay. Students tell him "they think they're boring. They like fiction better than true stories".

There's another problem with the younger generation, he says. "They hear the stories from their parents and the old people but they don't believe them. The young generation, they have to know what happened," he continues. "They need to see the reality of the regime."

This was not an issue when he hosted emotional two screenings of the film last year for Khmer Rouge victims who had travelled to the city for the ECCC tribunals. "They appreciated that we made the film," he says. "They want their children to understand the regime."

One person who hasn't seen the film is Nun Sila, Mr. Chhay's mother-in-law and the central character in the film. She doesn't need to see it. She lived it.

Meta House is located at Sothearos Boulevard #37. Photos courtesy of Chhay Bora.


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Jeffrey Staggs is a Phnom Penh based freelance writer.

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