The Ministry of Culture’s cinema department has announced its intention to form a film school in association with the Royal University of Fine Arts, according to Kong Kantara, who heads the department.
Though the plan is in its infancy, Kong Kantara said last week that the department has already begun seeking donor funds for a school that would be located within the existing RUFA complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“I am seeking partners for this project and expect to look for partners from South Korea,” he said.
Second secretary at the South Korean Embassy Kim In-kook said last week that a memorandum of understanding between RUFA and a South Korean university was signed a couple of years ago to cooperate on a film school, but he said he didn’t have any details and referred further questions to RUFA.
Krouch Samoeun, a professor of choreographic arts at RUFA, said last week that discussions are under way at RUFA, but that realistically he thought a film department was a ways off.
Since its “Golden Age” in the 1960s, Cambodian cinema has sporadically risen and fallen because of a variety of factors including the 2003 anti-Thai riots, after which a ban on imported Thai films allowed Cambodian filmmakers more leeway, and the influx of pirated DVDs, which many blame for the subsequent lull in film productions.
Several landmark theaters have closed recently, and the number of films produced in Cambodia more than halved last year. According to the Culture Ministry, 28 films were produced in Cambodia in 2007, as compared to the 61 produced in 2006 and the 58 produced in 2005.
Ly Bun Yim, renowned Cambodian filmmaker from the 1960s, said he hoped a national film school would provide a much-needed backbone to Cambodian cinema, but he thought the Culture Ministry’s plan was ambitious and would take at least four or five years to realize.
“It’s all about capital,” he said, referring to what he thinks is needed to stimulate film production in Cambodia.
Ly Bun Yim finished shooting his latest film, “Divinity Court,” on 35 mm film in 2005, but still needs $100,000 to transfer the film to high-definition film before it will be up to international standards.
He said that, ideally, a film school would be able to rent out state-of-the-art equipment to working filmmakers so that they can compete on the international market.
Ray Leos, dean of communications and media arts at Pannasastra University, said in an interview earlier this year that the lack of a film school was a major factor hindering cinema development in Cambodia, and added last week that he was “guardedly optimistic” about the Culture Ministry’s new plan.
“There’s this sort of short-term approach to things,” he said of cinema in Cambodia.
The majority of Cambodian filmmakers “don’t really have any training. They’re able to cobble together some money—a few thousand bucks—and they have access to cameras.”
“They shoot them cheap, and they shoot them fast. There’s little to no thought given to the story…. Audiences have gotten tired of that stuff because it’s the same thing, and then you put that together with the rise of DVDs and foreign product, and it’s resulted, as you know, in the closure of several theaters.”
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)