Aspiring Filmmakers Face Developing Industry

Three weeks ago, Cambodia’s first Oscar nominee, director Rithy Panh, joined filmmakers around the world at the 86th Academy Awards.

Hoping to follow in Mr. Panh’s footsteps, about 300 aspiring filmmakers and movie enthusiasts on Sunday joined the opening sessions of FilmCamp KH at Phnom Penh’s University of Puthisastra.

It’s been a good year for Cambodian filmmakers—in addition to the Oscar nomination, two Cambodians took first and second place at the Southeast Asia Tropfest Film Festival—but none of the aspiring filmmakers were blind to the reality that the country’s film industry is just getting off the ground.

“In Cambodia the quality of film is still low, but we will improve film together,” said Seang Vireak, who heads a club of about 20 film enthusiasts at the host university.

“It’s difficult that we have no university or school of film,” he added.

FilmCamp KH offered 16 classes on everything from character development to finding time to film a movie. One class on Steadicams—technology that allows an even shot while walking—was taught by French cinematographer Gilles Sainsily.

After eight months in the country, Mr. Sainsily said he already has seen improvement in filmmaking potential here. The equipment available is better and the Cambodian teams he works with need less instruction.

“Cambodia is evolving pretty quickly,” he said.

Beyond the classes, the true importance of the camp lies with connecting aspiring filmmakers with each other, said Sum Sithen, one of the event’s organizers and a member of Kon Khmer Koun Khmer, the group behind the camp.

“If [young filmmakers] only focus on their work without sharing their skills or knowledge and meeting other professionals, then their perception of their skills are limited,” he said. “Only when they learn from others can they grow.”

These connections have been vital for Van Sidaro, who has participated in the camp since it began in 2012. Mr. Sidaro graduated from law school last year—the aspiration of his parents, who don’t believe their son can support himself making movies.

But Mr. Sidaro hasn’t given up, helping FilmCamp friends with their story ideas, writing and selling the occasional script for music videos, and putting up $70 or $80 to help finance short films.

“We have a long way to go to be a good country that has good film,” Mr. Sidaro said.

“I will try it and try it and follow my dream.”

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