As the production crew for Tomb Raider sat in America brainstorming ideas for their latest box office hit, they stared at a photo book of Angkor Wat lying on the coffee table in front of them. “They looked at it and said ‘let’s go there’,” says Nick Ray, a local location scout. “It hadn’t been done before,” says Ray. “There was no road map; we had to meet with the ministers to explain why this was good for Cambodia.”
The filming of Tomb Raider in 2000 was undoubtedly Cambodia’s “big break” in the movie world, with the intriguing temple of Ta Prohm forming the backdrop for the big screen blockbuster. “it was the film that showed Hollywood it could be done. It surprised people in the industry,” says Ray.
Matt Dillon followed hot on Tomb Raider’s tail, setting and filming his 2002 film, City of Ghosts, in the Kingdom. This was the first time since before the war that a major American film used Cambodia as its principal location, with Richard Brooks’ Lord Jim being the last in 1965.
Jean-Jacques Annaud was up next, using Cambodia as the backdrop for about three quarters of his film, Two Brothers, shipping in more than 30 tigers from France and Thailand. “He wanted somewhere really remote,” says Ray, recalling visiting parts of Kulen Mountain and Preah Vihear that were still littered with landmines.
A lull followed in the late 2000s, with Australian film Wish You Were Here being the next major movie to shine the spotlight on Cambodia. Set in both Australia and Cambodia – mostly Sihanoukville – it opened the 2012 Sundance Festival and went on to win a string of awards
Despite Hollywood clamoring for a slice of Cambodia, the local film industry remained in its infancy. In the glorious Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s, passionate film-maker King Sihanouk wrote and directed more than 30 feature films. However, decades of war brought this to an end, bringing the industry to a halt.
With the local film scene pumping out mainly low-budget Khmer horror films, filmmaker Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture once again threw Cambodia into the international spotlight. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and scooping Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Cinemanila International Film Festival, it was a shining example of what can be created on a local level.
Helping to nurture the country’s movie sector is Angelina Jolie Pitt, who has been in Cambodia since October this year ensuring the details are right for her screen adaptation of Loung Ung’s heart-wrenching memoirs, First They Killed My Father. Determined to make the film as authentic as possible, Jolie Pitt scoured the country to find the right cast and locations.
“I wanted to make as much of the film as possible in Cambodia – not just recruiting local actors and crew and filming here, but also working with local artists and filmmakers on the set and production,” the Hollywood icon says.
The very fact that the film industry is so small also means those employed in it do not have full time jobs and are unable to fully develop their skills. “There’s not enough work all year round for them to be full-time actors or work on sets,” says Ray. “It would be great if home-grown production could up its game. It needs the government and private sector to work together to get more people here and create a sustainable industry for everyone.”
With First They Killed My Father set to be screened on Netflix in 2016, this could be the extra international push Cambodia needs to take the film industry to the next level. “I’m excited for more people to see what a Cambodian film production can do,” says Jolie Pitt as filming gets underway.
Source from ASEAN Forum, article written by Marissa Carruthers.
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