We often learn the best when we learn from others' ideas and experiences. Sharing knowledge opens doors to the world and it is how we grow as human beings. Check out my new section dedicated to writers who wish to share their knowledge and experiences on Cambodia.
The first guest writer is Socheata Vong, a development professional (and recent interviewee on the Next Generation of Leaders Series). Socheata shares her enthusiasm for Rithy Panh's film "The Missing Picture" and the excitement she felt when the film was nominated for an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film category and the disappointment she felt when it didn't win. Socheata describes the pride of a nation for the country's most prominent filmmaker.
RITHY PANH AND THE MISSING PICTURE
By Socheata Vong, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
When I first came to study in Phnom Penh in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my first movie was a Cambodian movie, "One Evening after the War" by Mr. Rithy Panh. The movie was so great that my feeling about the movie lasted for a week. Feeling great from the first movie, I started to search more of his movies including the “Rice People” and “Site 2”. I connected with Rithy Panh via Facebook in 2012 and have met him on several occasions. In May 2013, I saw a picture that he posted on his Facebook page. That picture obviously showed the Khmer Rouge regime, but what I wondered was that, in just one picture there were a real scene and some figures. I didn’t know what it was about. Then a week later I knew that it was a new film entitled, “The Missing Picture” through another picture he posted with a caption.
I had a strong intuition that this film would have a bright future because the picture looked really capturing. Then later in May I read that the film won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, and that’s how I started to learn that those figures were made from clay, the things that I could never imagine of. All of the information I knew was from Mr. Rithy Panh’s Facebook page even before some media started to pick it up. Since then I have followed the news closely through his Facebook page and read any articles related to the film. In June 2013, I was so lucky to be one of few Cambodian audience members to watch the film after it had won the Cannes Prizes. That was when I got to know the real scenes of those small and beautiful figures made from clay were used to create events Rithy Panh recalls from the Khmer Rouge era. It is a brilliant film that touched on the art of creativity to tell a story that is missing. It is a story that can be remembered in one’s memory after almost 40 years.
In December 2013, The 86th Academy Award offered a pleasant surprise in the nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Among the list of nine nominees, ‘The Missing Picture’ was one of them! And on January 16, the 86th Academy nominated 'The Missing Picture' as its top five nominees competing with ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ of Belgium, ‘The Great Beauty’ of Italy, ‘The Hunt’ of Denmark, and ‘Omar’ of Palestine. International media started to feature the story in more detail and everyone in Cambodia who knew about the Oscar nomination was looking forward to hearing the results, which were announced on March 2. I watch the Oscars ceremony every year at home. Yet, this year is so special because I got to watch the Oscar live at the Bophana Center, the film preservation NGO Rithy Panh founded himself, to hear the result of the Best Foreign Language Film.
When it came time for the Best Foreign Film nominees, I was filled with nervous excitement watching them. Then when the winner was announced, I felt disappointed for the fact that 'The Missing Picture' did not win the Oscar. The winner went to ‘The Great Beauty’ of Italy. Yet, it is already a big pride for Cambodia and her people to bring this beautiful film to the international stage. At the Oscar live, I also got a rare chance to meet with Mang Sarith who sculpted more than 500 clay figures for Cambodia’s first Oscar nomination. He has a gift of unusual talent from Prey Veng. Rithy Panh is the greatest talent that nobody else in Cambodia can compare in the modern time. He has produced a lot of prominent films although they are not widely heard. If you haven't seen one or all of his films, here are some of my highly recommended films: One Evening after the War; Rice People (1994 Cannes Official Selection and 67th Oscar submission); Site 2; Bophana: A Cambodian Tragedy; S-21: The Killing Machine; Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell, and The Missing Picture.
Bringing a film to the Oscar nomination is not a simple thing, yet Rithy Panh made it all the way there, something that never happened in this small Kingdom. He also brought some of his clay figures to the Oscar, something that was truly exciting. After all, Rithy Panh deserves recognition by the Cambodian King and the Cambodian government for such a historic masterpiece.
It has been 40 years since the Khmer Rouge atrocity happened. While some people might want to forget about it and move toward the future, some are still talking about it and living with this nightmare. Reports found that many young people did not believe that starvation, torture and mass killings really happened under the Khmer Rouge. A film like 'The Missing Picture' can bridge a gap between the old and young generations about the importance of knowing the history. It is our shared responsibility to keep the truth alive about the Khmer Rouge to ensure a better, safer future.
Socheata Vong is a development professional and is one of the featured interviews in the "Next Generation of Leaders" series.
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