Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Never seen before

Never seen before in Cambodia is the title for Friday night's (29 May) screening of two films at Meta House in Phnom Penh, as part of their Legacy Film week. I have a list of films and documentaries that have never been shown here, or not seen for a very long time, and where I am contacting the film directors to ask permission to screen the films at Meta House. The response so far has been fantastic, my personal thanks to all of the directors involved, and Friday will see two more films that will be making their public debut. Fear and Hope in Cambodia was made in 1993 by Isabelle Abric and written and narrated by author and journalist William Shawcross. It contains lots of previously unseen footage as it chronicles the before, during and after of the history-making elections under the supervision of the United Nations. The second documentary is The Road From Kampuchea, made by Anne Henderson in 1998. It tells the story of Tun Channareth, a landmine survivor and ex-resistance fighter who became a disability outreach worker. He traveled to hospitals and remote villages to deliver custom-made wheelchairs to fellow survivors. He then became a spokesperson for the anti-landmine campaign, traveling to Japan and Europe to promote the cause. Eventually, he made it to Canada, where the first international treaty to ban landmines was signed by 125 countries and to Oslo, where he received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. We are also treated to the music of chapei master Kong Nai.
UNTAC's special representative in Cambodia Yasushi Akashi being interviewed
Tun Channareth receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Passing the family baton

This painting, My Grandfather Teaching Me How, says it all, by Ouk Sochivy
It all started on Sunday when three generations of Em Theay's family performed together at the benefit screening at Bophana and carried on this evening with two more events that I attended. Again at Bophana, the first-ever solo exhibition of paintings called To Be Continued by Ouk Sochivy kicked-off tonight with a healthy crowd in support of the 25-year-old artist. Chivy is the granddaughter of the legendary self-taught painter Svay Ken who died at the end of last year, and who taught and encouraged Chivy to begin painting in the middle of last year. Adopting an almost identical style to her grandfather, she has more than 30 paintings in this exhibition ranging from still life to fashion trends to eight paintings documenting the end of Svay Ken's life. Whilst the painting style won't be everyone's cup of tea, she is certainly carrying the Svay Ken baton and continuing his unique artform and technique. I left the exhibition at 7pm to make my way to the riverfront and the Chinese House just in time to catch an hour of chapei legend Kong Nai and his son, Kong Boran, performing together as a family unit, for another big crowd. Despite his blindness, Kong Nai is teaching his son though it was noticeable that Kong Boran has a sweeter voice than his father and adopts a slightly different singing style too. It is always a pleasure to see Kong Nai perform as he gives his all and flashes his brilliant white teeth as his way of acknowledging his enjoyment in performing and bringing this improvised form of music to a wider audience.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Arn's mission

I finally managed to see The Flute Player for the first time tonight at Meta House, as part of an evening inspired by the work of Cambodian Living Arts, who are the main thrust of a revival in Khmer performing arts, thanks in no small part to Arn Chorn-Pond, the subject of the documentary film. Arn was a boy soldier in the Khmer Rouge and that stayed with him after he was adopted and taken to live in America. His passion to make something good from his past saw him return to Cambodia to seek out the old music masters, who survived the Khmer Rouge years and to record their music and to hear their stories. The Masters Program, which Arn supported by travelling the globe telling his own personal, and emotional story, became Cambodian Living Arts. His youthful appearance and effervescent enthusiasm belies the heartbreak and sadness that simmers just below the surface, so the success of CLA and the great work they have done in helping the next generation of musicians connect with the old masters is music to his ears. His own life was spared during the killing years by being able to play the flute, so music has been his saviour in more ways than one. Amongst the masters on show was a telling contribution from the chapei king himself, Kong Nai, who was filmed at his home in Dey Krahom, which has now been demolished, as of last weekend. The documentary was filmed in 2003.
Also, as part of the evening, a young CLA student, Sinat, played a series of traditional instruments for the audience and answered questions about both the music and himself, and a short film on the dying art of giant leather puppets was shown and featured a couple of troupes that perform this traditional art in Siem Reap. Fortunately the monks at Wat Bo in the town have been a catalyst in reviving this artform and it seems to have at least secured its future for the short term.
Arn Chord-Pond's own life was saved by playing the flute
Kong Nai gave his usual electric performance in the film
Giant puppetry in Siem Reap is now recovering from near-extinction
The giant puppets are illuminated by a large log-fire, when performing in the countryside
Sinat from CLA and his array of traditional musical instruments

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