Cambodian Filmmakers Again Dominate Tropfest

Cambodian filmmaker Polen Ly was crowned winner of the 2015 Tropfest South East Asia short-film competition in Malaysia on Sunday night for his short feature “Colourful Knots,” while Chap Somchanrith took third prize for “A Fistful of Pebbles,” a local spin on the Hollywood Western.

It was the second year running that a Cambodian took top honors at the festival, following Sothea Ines’ 2014 win for her film “Rice.”

Polen Ly, center, shakes hands with Mike Ellis, president of the Motion Picture Association for the Asia-Pacific region, after winning the Tropfest South East Asia short-film festival in Malaysia on Sunday. (Tropfest)
Polen Ly, center, shakes hands with Mike Ellis, president of the Motion Picture Association for the Asia-Pacific region, after winning the Tropfest South East Asia short-film festival in Malaysia on Sunday. (Tropfest)

Mr. Ly’s win also marked another leap forward for the 25-year-old self-taught filmmaker, who took second prize at last year’s festival with his film “Duettos.”

His latest effort, which earned him $12,000 in prize money and a trip to Los Angeles to meet with cinema’s leading lights, charts the story of a wealthy Cambodian girl who befriends two street children she meets at a crossroads. It is an enigmatic portrait of friendship etched across Cambodia’s widening social divide that won over a panel of five judges, including renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

For the former medical-student turned filmmaker, winning this year’s competition was less a personal victory than a celebration of underprivileged Cambodian filmmakers’ potential to make their unique voices heard despite a lack of resources.

“Cambodia might not have a film school, but we have something inside of us and I believe more and more of us will make films that tell new generations of stories of Cambodia, and that is what is important,” Mr. Ly said Monday, adding that he never expected to win Tropfest.

Mr. Ly financed “Colourful Knots” through crowd-funding website Indiegogo and U.S.-based production company Velvet Jacket Pictures later came on board to produce and distribute the film.

Velvet Jacket CEO Nick Cucinella said Cambodia’s continued success at Tropfest showed that the promise of indigenous filmmaking was beginning to shine through.

“All the Cambodian films in the competition were powerful. I really feel this is the genesis of a unique Cambodian film industry,” he said by email Monday. “Young filmmakers in Cambodia are showing maturity in storytelling that’s as good as anywhere in the world.”

Jimmy Henderson, an Italian filmmaker based in Cambodia who worked as director of photography over “Colourful Knots’” three days of filming, said the government should do more to help young artists fulfill their potential.

“The government should sit up and take notice and acknowledge this talent, because it’s still very difficult for young filmmakers to express themselves and develop here,” he said.

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