Tropfest winners: Sothea Ines

After grabbing the top slot at Tropfest South East Asia with her short film "Rice", Cambodian film maker Sothea Ines talks exclusively about her desire to tell stories

Southeast Asia Globe Editorial
February 5, 2014
Tropfest winners: Sothea Ines

After grabbing the top slot at Tropfest South East Asia with her short film “Rice”, Cambodian film maker Sothea Ines talks exclusively about her desire to tell stories

Sothea Ines holds her winner's trophy aloft. Photo: Michael Chuan
Sothea Ines (centre) holds her winner’s trophy aloft. Photo: Michael Chuan

What’s your background?

I am a recent graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communications from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.  I live in Phnom Penh. I have two brothers and one sister and I am the youngest in my family.While still in my third year, just to try it out, I took on a part-time job writing a TV drama series. I enjoyed it so much that I continued as a writer on the next two series and my ambition changed. Bitten by the bug of storytelling, a strong desire to make films to tell the stories I wrote emerged. “RICE” [the theme of this year’s Tropfest Southeast Asia] is my first foray into independent film production. It’s the first film I have written, directed and produced.

Why did you choose this particular subject for your film?

The prospect of directing this film was a daunting one from the start. I was an amateur with no experience, only sheer guts, a group of supportive friends and a script I believed in. Everything was a challenge for me, thanks to my team and my mentor who helped me through everything — working with non-actors, lack of technical equipment. I used up all my savings to buy a DSLR camera to shoot the film, I had no money to recruit a professional crew. My entire crew consists of friends who agreed to work for free. I must say I was pretty confused emotionally while making the film, swinging between elation and trepidation. Looking back I am very surprised and pleased at myself for having pulled it off to an extent where everyone involved can be proud. Lots of films have been made on the horrors and tragedy of the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia. I wanted to make a different story within that theme. All the events in the film are based on true people’s lives and, unlike the ones made before, this film celebrates the capacity of the human spirit to make life lighter even during the direst of times. And thanks to Tropfest SEA, which came at the right time and pushed me to break my own comfort zone.

Why did you choose to present the film in black and white?

As it’s shown in the film Cambodia was in the time of silence and darkness.

How did you find the child actors?

I watched the “Gangnam Style” video that Taramana centre made and so I contacted the president and he asked me to come and cast the kids.

Did the child actors have knowledge of the Khmer Rouge regime before you decided to cast them?

The kids didn’t have any idea about the Khmer Rouge; it was very challenging. All I decided to tell them was they would play in a movie about when there was nothing to eat.

How did you feel when you won the prize?

I felt so excited. Even now, I keep having to tell myself that I won the first prize. It’s not just winning the award it’s all about attending and getting to know so many inspiring and professional people at the festival.

How do you think winning the prize will help you?

This event has opened my eyes bigger to see what I can do — to tell story. I think it could help starting an individual project that I have.

What has been the reaction to your win in Cambodia?

Oh everyone around me congratulated a lot and I still can’t take that in. They were saying that I’m so lucky. So I think I need to make a few more films to prove them that it was luck with commitment and effort and creativity. Not just lucky.

What will you do with the prize money?

I will donate $1000 to Taramana to the kids. To thank them for working hard.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I do. It’s film revolution in Cambodia.

Where did you hear about what happened to children in the Khmer Rouge regime?

Since I was young my parents always keep telling me that I’m was so lucky being born in this time. For the children’s camp I did some research by interviewing victims who were in children’s camp in the [Khmer Rouge] regime.

What do you think about the film industry in Cambodia?

I think there isn’t happening much comparing to our neighboring countries. For example when I made my film I had this financial problem – the place I went think film makers are so rich and so everything costs higher than it should be. Anyway, I’m appreciate that lately there are a few Cambodian films screened at the cinema. I really wish that our government would encourage film makers to make films.

Was it difficult to get everything in to a seven-minute film?

It was so difficult in the post production, what to cut what to keep. There is footage that has been shot but not used. That was why I didn’t think I could win. Maybe not enough shots to tell the story well.


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Top 5: female film directors – Five women who have brought a feminine touch to the male-dominated world of movie making in Southeast Asia

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