Director’s First Feature to Screen at Cannes

“Diamond Island,” a new film by French director Davy Chou set in Phnom Penh, will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France next month after beating out more than 1,000 other entries for a coveted spot at the event’s critics’ week.

Since 1961, film critics have held a separate competition during the 12-day festival with the goal of discovering new directors. This year, the “Semaine de la Critique” selection committee watched 1,100 feature films from around the world and picked seven, including Mr. Chou’s.

A still image from Davy Chou's film 'Diamond Island,' which will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival next month.
A still image from Davy Chou’s film ‘Diamond Island,’ which will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival next month.

“We fell in love with this first feature film, ‘Diamond Island,’ a depiction of a Cambodian youth born in a country being transformed,” the event’s artistic director, Charles Tesson, said in an interview posted to the “Semaine de la Critique” website after the winners were announced Monday.

“Shaded with soft pop colors, the film charmingly outlines the journey of carefree youth faced with choices for the future,” he said.

Mr. Chou said he was shocked upon hearing that his film had been selected. He said he first attended the Cannes festival 10 years ago, eagerly watching films by established directors young and old.

“I never seriously thought that, one day, I would be in their shoes,” said the 32-year-old director.

“Diamond Island” features an all-Cambodian cast and centers around a young man who leaves his home province to work on a construction site on the newly developed island in Phnom Penh for which the film is named.

“It’s shot in Khmer except for a joke in Korean and another one in English,” and will be shown with English and French subtitles, Mr. Chou said.

Born to Cambodian parents in France in 1983, Mr. Chou learned in his teens that his grandfather Van Chann Pheap Yun was a leading film producer in the 1960s. This inspired him to make a documentary about Cambodia’s cinematic heyday of the 1960s, and in 2011 he released “Golden Slumbers,” which earned him several international awards. His short film “Cambodia 2099” was shown during the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2014 Cannes festival.

Produced by Aurora Films, “Diamond Island” was shot in December and January. Editing began immediately afterward so that it could be submitted to the “Semaine de la Critique” jury, Mr. Chou said. He now is working frantically to finish color grading and sound editing before the event begins on May 12.

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