The films of King Norodom Sihanouk—all 19 of them—now repose in the collection of the US-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that presents the Oscars.
That means the “Rose of Bokor” and “See Angkor…and Die” are now part of cinematic history along with famous films like “Citizen Kane” and “Star Wars.”
Scott Rosenberg, who manages a Bangkok public relations firm and has created a special Web site devoted to the King’s films and music, said the films were presented to the Academy Feb 28.
“The films are the only vestiges of Cambodian film history that present any slice of Khmer history and culture, in which so many folk are interested,” Rosenberg said in an e-mail interview.
“It is a great honor that His Majesty’s films now lie in Hollywood, along with the greats of film history, preserving a small slice of Khmer history and culture on film.”
The Web site devoted to the King, www.norodomsihanouk.org, has existed for about five years and receives more than 3,000 “hits,” or visitors, per week—most of whom appear to be expatriate Cambodians, Rosenberg said.
The site offers a color portrait of the King; a message from him; a message from his son Prince Norodom Sihamoni; a complete list of the King’s films, including the date they were made and information on how to order copies; and audio clips of songs composed by the King.
Rosenberg said the site gets plenty of inquiries about the films, although he is not sure how many copies are sold. He said sales are handled by a separate organization at www.meridianvideo.com.
“I was first introduced to His Majesty’s films back in 1995, when I was the director of an international film festival held in conjunction with the Thai Board of Investment,” he writes.
“The film festival focused on films of the Greater Mekong and the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand at the time, His Excellency Roland Eng, introduced me to His Majesty’s films.”
Rosenberg was taken with the films, and continued to promote them at other film festivals. He said he has since met the King several times, and “I have come to think of him as my grandfather.
“He is a wonderful gentleman to talk with—he spins tales of Cambodia when she was the pearl of the Orient—talking of Hollywood movies and the stars who inspired him so much,” he writes.
The King’s message on the Web site was written for the World Video Festival held in Brussels, Belgium, in 1995. In it he explains that his love for film dates back to his student days in Saigon in the 1930s, when he was “captivated” by excellent French and American films in Vietnam’s “beautiful movie theaters.”
“I wanted to become a filmmaker and even an actor, at the same time a professor of French, Latin and Greek in a high school in my country,” he writes.
Instead, in 1941, he became King of Cambodia. It was 25 years before he indulged his passion for moviemaking with the production of “Apsara” in 1966.
“I never thought of filmmaking as a simple amusement or artistic activity,” he writes. “I wanted, and still want, to show my country, its past and contemporary history, its culture, its people, and express my feelings regarding certain facets of our nation’s life.”
The King released five movies between 1995 and 1997: “An Ambition Reduced To Ashes”; “Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, The Only Haven”; “Heir of a Defeated Successionist”; “The Last Days of Colonel Savath”; and “An Apostle of Non-Violence.”
“Each of my films develops a particular theme,” he writes. “The love story in each film merely plays the role of a guide; it makes the audience take an interest in Cambodia, in its culture, its problems, the virtues of the little people, the faults or weaknesses of other more fortunate countrymen…
“The star of my films is never an actor: it is always Cambodia.”
The Web site is finding an appreciative audience, judging from remarks e-mailed from those who have visited the site. Some are steeped in politics, like this Khmer New Year’s message from an expatriate living in Australia:
“You are a good Boddhi Tree giving shade to the Khmer people, and protecting our Khmer identity, culture and religion, which are being eliminated secretly by the Thais and Vietnamese.”
Others seem purely cultural, like this exuberant posting from a Cambodian-American girl in the US state of Texas:
“This PaGe is Da BoMB!! i am a Cambo chick and i hope that all of the Cambodian peepz have opportunities like us, every child and person there!! KHMAI PRIDE IN MY BLOOD!!”
Her virtual cousin from San Francisco writes: “dis website is tight!!! cool pics!! well peace out!! kHmErpRyDe Fo LyFe!!!”
Still others simply express thanks for the King’s works and the Web site. Writes one visitor from the Philippines:
“I have just returned from a visit to Angkor; it is the most beautiful spot I have ever seen, and Cambodia is most scenic and its people are very warm. I am also a musician and I have a deep respect and admiration for His Majesty the King of Cambodia.”