Venice Hidden Gem: Buddhism and Sci-Fi Converge in Cambodian Mystery ‘Karmalink’

American expat director Jake Wachtel was teaching a film course in Cambodia when inspiration struck for his futuristic reincarnation mystery 'Karmalink.' He then enlisted his two favorite students to star in the film and even help write the script.

It was on day four of a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Cambodia that Jake Wachtel began arranging ideas about reincarnation and implanted memories that had been fermenting in his mind for several months into what he calls a “fully-fledged movie.” That film would eventually become his feature debut Karmalink, a gripping and uniquely spun Khmer-language sci-fi mystery set in a near-future Phnom Penh that is now opening Venice’s Critics’ Week sidebar.

“I came out of that meditation retreat feeling like, whoa, I really like this idea now and want to put everything into it,” he says.

As well as leaving the retreat having devised the main story of Karmalink — in which a teenage Cambodian boy teams up with a street-smart girl from the same poor neighborhood to help unravel a mystery he believes is hidden in his past-life dreams — Wachtel came away with another realization: the two main roles should go to his two favorite students from one of his film classes.

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