Oscar Nominee Rithy Panh a Big Winner in Cambodian Eyes

On Monday morning Phnom Penh time, Rithy Panh entered movie history as the first Cambodian director to attend the Academy Awards ceremony for his Oscar-nominated feature film “The Missing Picture.”

While his movie failed to come away with the award for best foreign film at the 86th Oscars in Hollywood, Mr. Panh said he still appreciated that his film had been nominated.

Cambodian director Rithy Panh on the set of his film "The Missing Picture." (Siv Channa)
Cambodian director Rithy Panh on the set of his film “The Missing Picture.” (Siv Channa)

“We were close to a historical moment,” Mr. Panh said in an email from Hollywood right after the Oscars ceremony.

“I’m a bit disappointed—it’s normal. But we will win one day…Today Cambodia is being recognized. We have true potential: It’s a country of artists.”

The odds of the Cambodian film winning the Oscar had been 5 to 1, the other nominees hailing from Belgium, Denmark, Palestine and Italy, with the prize going to the Italian entrant “The Great Beauty.”

The Oscar nomination will add further recognition to “The Missing Picture,” which had won the “Un Certain Regard” award at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May. A few months afterward, Mr. Panh was named the 2013 Asian Filmmaker of the Year at the 18th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

Although Mr. Panh is far from a newcomer in the documentary-film and movie world, his Oscar nomination garnered the attention of international media in ways that his previous works had not.

In “The Missing Picture,” Mr. Panh used clay figures to re-enact scenes of life in Khmer Rouge work camps, scenes he remembered from his childhood during the Pol Pot years and for which there were no images to portray that period. By creating scenes with static figures and narrating them in the first person, the filmmaker was taking a huge risk.

But, being Rithy Panh, it worked, to the extent of the Academy Award judges selecting “The Missing Picture” among hundreds of movies from around the world.

Alongside the Italian film that won the Oscar, the other finalists were “The Broken Circle Breakdown” from Belgium, “The Hunt” from Denmark, and “Omar” from Palestine.

Starting Thursday, “The Missing Picture” will be shown at Legend Cinema and Platinum Cineplex in Phnom Penh. It will be screened in Khmer with English subtitles.

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