It’s been an exciting year for drone operators in Cambodia, with a slew of foreign tourists and filmmakers incurring the wrath of Phnom Penh authorities for piloting video cameras over the Royal Palace and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house without permission.
Local photographer and drone pilot Kimlong Meng has also attracted attention, though for different reasons.
The 24-year-old’s aerial footage of cultural events, historical sites and natural phenomena from across the country, including Water Festival boat races in Svay Rieng province and the cascading Bosra waterfall in Mondolkiri province have been clocking up hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook.
Mr. Meng, a Phnom Penh native who made a name for himself as a freelance photographer after dropping out of Limkokwing University one year into his studies, purchased his first drone in May last year and learned to fly it from videos on the Internet.
“I’ve had many bad experiences, I crashed and lost [a drone], as I remember, five times,” he said.
Now, armed with a top-of-the-line Phantom 3 video drone, Mr. Meng has his sights set on international recognition, and has compiled his stunning flyovers into a 2-minute film that he plans to submit to the 2nd annual New York City Drone Film Festival, which will take place between March 4 and 6.
“The Enchanted Kingdom,” which is in the final stages of editing and set to be released online in February, contains Mr. Meng’s favorite shots from the 20 provinces that he filmed in over the past year.
Excited by the prospect of wowing an international audience with shots of Angkor Wat and the Areng Valley, the budding cinematographer also hopes his footage will encourage Cambodians to protect their country from the ravages of development, instead of waxing nostalgic about the past.
“They love the past, but sometimes they forget about now. It’s like the past is always better than now…they don’t protect what they have now,” he said.
“It’s [the government’s] job to protect the resources, but sometimes the people themselves don’t protect it. Like when I fly in Stung Treng…the local dolphins, they don’t protect them. They go fishing and they put the net in and the dolphins get stuck inside.”
Mr. Meng hopes, too, that his work will convince Cambodians that they are capable of surpassing the abilities of foreigners when it comes to both piloting drones and making films.
“A lot of clients I work with say they want the quality of a foreigner, but I think we can make it [also], but the problem is psychological. They [Cambodians] always think the foreigner is better than the locals,” he said.
“I hope it can inspire some young people—not just young people but also old people—to make them think, ‘I can do it too.’”