Cambodians Take Top Prizes at Film Festival

Two Cambodian filmmakers received the top two prizes at the inaugural Tropfest Southeast Asia (SEA) short film festival in Penang, Malaysia, on Saturday night, with 24-year-old Sothea Ines’ directorial debut “Rice” voted best film and earning her $10,000 and a trip to meet some of Hollywood’s leading players.

Twelve finalists were judged live on Saturday by a panel of five, including Oscar-winning director Adam Elliot and “Legally Blonde” director Robert Luketic, in front of a crowd of more than 4,000 people.

The other Cambodian in the festival, 24-year-old Polen Ly, was voted runner up with his silent short film “Duetto.”

Tropfest SEA is the first Asian edition of the Tropfest project, the world’s largest short-film festival.

An exhausted Ms. Ines, who has been in Malaysia since before the festival began on January 25, said Sunday that she was overwhelmed to have won but insisted the real reward was the experience.

“It is really amazing, not just to win the prize, but just attending and meeting lots of inspiring people and learning from them,” she said, adding that claiming first and second prize at the festival would have a positive effect on Cambodian cinema.

“There is not much happening in the film industry in Cambodia, so I hope young Cambodian filmmakers will look at me and think—well if she can do it, so can I.”

A recent graduate in media and communications from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Ms. Sothea is a member of Cambodian film collective Kon Khmer Koun Khmer and had previously worked as a scriptwriter before deciding to enter the first Tropfest SEA with her debut film.

“Rice,” which is filmed in black and white and is without dialogue, tells the story of five orphan boys as they struggle for survival in a children’s camp during the Khmer Rouge regime and stars children from the Taramana Center, a French-run NGO assisting orphans and impoverished children from Russei Keo district’s Boeng Salang slum.

“It was amazing but also a challenge as the children are non-actors and I am a first-time director, and they are representing an era in 1975 that they are too young to know about,” she said, adding that the she intended to share the spoils of winning Tropfest SEA.

“I will share the money with the kids, with the center, and it will help for my next project.”

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