With Unusual Format, Young Directors Debut First Feature

Kon Khmer Koun Khmer, an association of young Cambodian filmmakers, is taking a major gamble this week: presenting its first feature-length film in a commercial cinema, and trusting that the Phnom Penh public will support a movie with an unusual format.

“Pram Ang,” or Five Sacred Bodies, is a series of five vignettes that depict the lives and dreams of Cambodian children. The 80-minute Khmer-language film will be shown with English subtitles from Friday through July 6 at Major Cineplex in Phnom Penh.

 A scene from Phichith Rithea's 'A Moment,' a vignette in the film 'Pram Ang'

A scene from Phichith Rithea’s ‘A Moment,’ a vignette in the film ‘Pram Ang’

An early version of the film was presented at the Cambodia International Film Festival in 2014, and has since been reformatted and the ending modified, said Sum Sithen, a co-producer for Kon Khmer Koun Khmer, or 4-Ks, which was founded in 2009 to encourage young Cambodians to develop a local film industry.

When the project was launched in mid-2013, the association’s directors submitted scores of potential storylines. But hard choices had to be made, Mr. Sithen said, including, “Which children do we want to portray on the big screen? What part of their lives would we like to have described?”

World Vision Cambodia, a Christian NGO that assists disadvantaged children, helped them through the process. It was important to focus on modern-day Cambodia to make the public aware of the various struggles of children in the country, said Kong Sopheak, World Vision’s creative services manager in Cambodia.

“And this needed to be done through the eyes of the children…because we believe that children have the right to live and live with the fullness of life,” he said.

A scene from Ly Polen’s ‘Red Ink’
A scene from Chhorn Bunhom’s ‘Pros Thom’

Having written the screenplays and cast young actors, five directors from 4-Ks went to work, creating vignettes between seven and 20 minutes in length on a total production budget of $20,000.

Han Wathanak crafted the story of a boy who spends his days minding cows in a pasture but dreams of going to school. Lim Sipheng featured a shoeshine boy whose world opens up through his conversations with a customer.

In Ly Polen’s film, a girl copes with having been raped, and in Phichith Rithea’s segment, a boy mourning his deceased mother is comforted by a supernatural visit.

Only Chhorn Bunhom’s vignette takes place in another era, showing a boy’s harsh life under the Khmer Rouge.

A scene from Ly Polen’s ‘Red Ink’
A scene from Ly Polen’s ‘Red Ink’

But will the public pay to see this “alternative movie,” as the association describes it?

“Honestly, it’s very hard to predict public response,” said Sao Sokny, general manager of Major Cineplex at Aeon Mall. “Sometimes, we may advertise like crazy and the turnout is unexpectedly low. And some films will work by themselves: People tell each other and come in the thousands. For this one, I just hope that word-of-mouth will happen, and that people will come and like it.”

Tickets cost 10,000 riel (about $2.50) for adults and 6,000 riel (about $1.50) for those under 16. The final screening on July 7 will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the directors.

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