Cambodian filmmaker raised in White Building opens up about childhood

An array of award-winning short films has made Kavich Neang one of Cambodia’s most prominent young filmmakers. He spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about the Kingdom’s film industry and working on his first feature, a story about Phnom Penh’s recently demolished White Building, his childhood home

Madeleine Keck
October 25, 2017
Cambodian filmmaker raised in White Building opens up about childhood
Award-winning Cambodian filmmaker Kavich Neang

Can you tell us about the motivation for making White Building?
My parents moved into the White Building right after the Khmer Rouge and it was such a unique and special place full of artists and musicians. There was constantly a party feel with people singing and dancing. When I heard that it was going to be demolished, I felt it was really important for me to capture that atmosphere and document what life was like. So I’m in the process of working on that right now.

Your short film Goodbye Phnom Penh was selected to be part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Asian Film Archive. Tell us about the film and your inspiration…
The topic for the filmmakers was ‘fragment’, which for me represented people being together and apart. The film is a love story about a Khmer guy and a French-Cambodian woman: it’s about the time they spend together before she goes back to France.

Goodbye Phnom Penh took last year’s top prize at the Chaktomuk Short Film Festival in Phnom Penh. How does it feel getting local acknowledgment?
A few of my smaller short films have won prizes outside Cambodia, but for me winning a prize in Cambodia is really special. You don’t create art for prizes, you do it because it’s your passion, but you do want people to like it. Having Cambodians enjoy my passion becomes more and more encouraging and fulfilling.

What are the main challenges to working in Cambodia’s film industry?
A lot of Cambodian filmmakers struggle to find the money needed to fund their films. If you don’t have the money, I think it’s very challenging. You need a lot of encouragement from the government if you want to make a film but don’t have any money. Censorship can also be quite a difficult challenge to overcome. Sometimes, when the topic is related to socio-political issues, you need to be creative about how you approach it.

How do you see the local filmmaking scene developing in the years to come?
I am very positive that new people are going to come in and make short films and that the industry will grow over the next ten years. While filmmaking is a lot of work, young Cambodian people have the desire to express their own voice and their own stories. My generation is then going to move onto feature films – it’s going to be a growing cycle.

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