Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Legacy film shows

Em Theay adjusts the headdress of her principal student Sok Chea
This week Meta House is screening a selection of rare documentaries that deal with Cambodia's troubled past, it's legacy of the last 40 years. I will be presenting two films on Thursday of this week (28th May) and two more on Friday night, both screenings begin at 7pm at Meta House, next to Wat Botum on Street 264. If you haven't seen The Tenth Dancer then you must come on Thursday. It is a extraordinary film shot in 1993 that tells the story of the re-emergence of classical Khmer court dance in the wake of the Khmer Rouge's attempts to annihilate the country's cultural heritage. Told through interviews with the incredible Em Theay and her principal dancer Sok Chea, it is a wonderful time-capsule of the early 90s and a tribute to a true icon of Cambodian culture, Em Theay. The recent benefit screening of The Tenth Dancer at Bophana was dedicated to her after a house fire destroyed her family's possessions including a tattered song and dance book that she managed to keep hidden throughout the Khmer Rouge regime. You will see how much that book meant to her in the film. I saw Em Theay out of the corner of my eye at the Bophana screening and she wept as she watched that segment of the film. If that doesn't get to you, nothing will. To meet the lady in person is to be absorbed by her spirited personality and natural grace and zest for life and dance. The film by Sally Ingleton is a wonderful tribute to her and her fellow dancers and teachers. Visit the website of The Tenth Dancer to find out more about this incredible story of survival. The second screening on Thursday will be the dreamlike Samsara: Death & Rebirth in Cambodia, produced in 1989 by Ellen Bruno, documenting the struggle of Cambodians to rebuild a shattered society, interspersed with ancient prophecies and folklore.
The opening sequence of The Tenth Dancer with Em Theay and Sok Chea at the Royal Palace
Em Theay proudly shows some of the books she kept hidden during Pol Pot time
Em Theay and her principal dancer Sok Chea
Samsara: Death & Rebirth in Cambodia

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

May's Meta highlights

Well, for starters I will be hosting a couple of documentary nights at Meta House later next month, so I recommend you get along to both of those evenings. As part of Legacy Week, on Thursday 28th at 7pm, I am really pleased to present a double-bill of The Tenth Dancer and Samsara. These documentaries are from 1993 and 1989 respectively and are a time capsule of how Cambodia had survived the Khmer Rouge period and almost ten years of Vietnamese control. I'd asked Sally Ingleton for a copy of The Tenth Dancer before I heard about Em Theay's sad loss when her house burned down last month, so this showing will be particularly poignant. The following evening, Friday 29th, in 'Never Before Shown In Cambodia,' I will have two documentaries to screen, Isabelle Abric's 1993 Fear & Hope In Cambodia which chronicles Cambodia's recent history, and Anne Henderson's 1998 film The Road from Kampuchea, telling the story of the courageous Tun Channareth, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
Meta House, on Street 264 in Phnom Penh, will also be screening Site 2 by Rithy Panh on the 30th, and earlier that week, on the 27th, a double-bill of John Pilger's The Betrayal and Tom Fawthrop's Dreams & Nightmares, both documentaries from 1989 and exposing the West's support of Pol Pot. It's a packed month to be honest, with the We Want You To Know! film - with scenes of the KR period recreated by villagers on Sunday 10th - and lots of other interesting films on show, as well as the usual exhibitions and a Pride 09 film festival that focuses on the LGBT community in Cambodia. Link: Meta House.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Out of the ashes, again

Em Theay adjusts the headdress of Sok Chea during The Tenth Dancer
I urge you to come along to a benefit fundraiser for a national icon in Cambodia, Em Theay, this coming Sunday, 3 May at 4pm at the Bophana Center on Street 200 in Phnom Penh. Here is the official press release for the benefit screening:

Out of the ashes, again
Screening of award-winning film, The Tenth Dancer, to be held as a benefit for renowned classical dancer and singer Em Theay and her family, whose house burned down last month.
On Sunday, May 3rd, the documentary film, The Tenth Dancer, focusing on Em Theay and one of her most accomplished classical dance students, will be shown as part of a fundraising event to help Em Theay and her family recovers from a fire that destroyed all their possessions, including a priceless 60-year-old handwritten book of song lyrics. Organized by Dr. Toni Shapiro-Phim, director of Research and Archiving at Khmer Arts in Takhmao, Cambodia, and the staff of Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, the screening will take place at 4 PM, followed by a question and answer session with Em Theay and her daughter, Thoang Kim An, also a noted classical dancer.

In just under four years, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, an estimated 80-90% of Cambodia’s professional artists perished, including most of the members of the royal dance troupe. Perhaps only one in ten survived. The Tenth Dancer is the story of one of those who did. After Pol Pot was overthrown in 1979, dance teacher and singer Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh to help rebuild the troupe. The Tenth Dancer is an intimate portrait of the relationship between a teacher who works tirelessly to pass on her unique knowledge, and her devoted pupil, set against the backdrop of a devastated country. The film weaves the past and the present, memory and dream, to reveal a story of human dignity and survival.
In March, Em Theay’s house burned down. Her family was unable to save anything, as they were trying to help the neighbours, whose house went up in flames first, not imagining the fire would spread so quickly.

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center will host the screening/fundraiser on Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 4 PM, #64, Street 200, Phnom Penh (behind the French Cultural Center). Admission is free. Donations are requested.

The Tenth Dancer was made by Australian filmmaker Sally Ingleton who has been producing and directing award-winning documentaries for 25 years. Khmer Arts is an international NGO dedicated to fostering the vitality of Cambodian dance across borders. Also see here.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Benefit screening on 3 May

Keep a space in your diary for Sunday 3 May. That looks the likely date for a benefit screening at Bophana Center here in Phnom Penh of The Tenth Dancer, and it's featured classical dance teacher Em Theay. This wonderful lady and her daughter suffered a disastrous house fire a few weeks ago and lost everything. It would be a wonderful gesture if we can show our support and gratitude to Em Theay and her family for the unselfish work they have put in over the years to get classical Khmer dance back on its feet. Em Theay is an icon of exceptional dignity, serenity and grace and deserves our support. More on the benefit screening as I get it. Also read here.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Postman's bag

Hey, wait a minute Mr Postman... where's the DVD of The Tenth Dancer that director Sally Ingleton has sent to me? Sally was kind enough to agree to her film being shown at Meta House sometime soon, in a double-bill with Ellen Bruno's Samsara. Ellen's 30-minute film, shot in 1989 and documenting the struggle of Cambodians to rebuild a shattered society, interspersed with ancient prophecies and which glides along at a dreamlike pace, has already arrived. The Tenth Dancer, which Sally produced in 1993 and which tells the story of the revival of classical dance in Cambodia through the lives of Em Theay and Sok Chea, has yet to turn up. Come on Mr Postman, don't let me down, especially as the recent events in Em Theay's life demand that this wonderful documentary gets another airing to a brand new audience. Both films opened a window into Cambodia for me when I was living in the UK without access to any other footage, and as such have remained in my consciousness ever since.
I've also been sent two other DVDs in the last week. Sleepwalking Through The Mekong is released on DVD on the 14th of this month and they've sent a copy, together with a CD of the film's music, to review in the next couple of days. Also winging its way to me yesterday was Michael R Morris' 85-minute 2006 independent feature film, Last Seen At Angkor. Morris stars in his own low-budget thriller set in Cambodia. More when I've had a chance to watch it.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tenth Dancer

Em Theay adjusts the headdress of Sok Chea during The Tenth Dancer
The Tenth Dancer was a watershed film for me in many respects. There was so little television or film coming out of Cambodia in the early '90s that Sally Ingleton's 1993 documentary on the revival of classical dance in Cambodia through two of its shining stars, Em Theay and Sok Chea, was a godsend when it was screened by the BBC back in England. But I think it means even more to me today, having met Em Theay in person and having succumbed to her spirited personality and natural grace and zest for life and dance. The recent fire at her daughter's home where Theay lived that destroyed everything, including her precious memories, was a cruel twist for a family who have already endured more than most. I'm hoping that a benefit screening of The Tenth Dancer can take place at the Bophana Center in the near future, so people can see this beautifully-crafted film and at the same time, show their respect and admiration for Em Theay and her family. Please visit the website of The Tenth Dancer to find out more about this incredible story of survival of classical dance and the dancers themselves.

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