Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Coffee time

A lovely start to the day, a coffee with my god-daughter Vansy (in purple), her younger sister Matey, youngest brother and cousin Nin.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Number 1

Guess what recently topped Lonely Planet's list of the 500 best experiences on the planet. Correct. Angkor. Or as Nick Ray exclaims in this video. "Put them altogether, there's no debate. It's No 1." See what he has to say on the LP YouTube @ https://youtu.be/dCxkcDuW7AY

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Coming Home - The Last Reel

The Last Reel (www.thelastreel.info), an award-winning Cambodian movie produced by Hanuman Films, will be in cinemas in Cambodia from Friday 4 September 2015, including Major Cineplex, Platinum Cineplexes and Legend Cinemas. 
The Last Reel is one of the first feature films to be directed by a Cambodian woman, Sotho Kulikar, and was shot entirely on location in Cambodia with a cast of leading local talent, including screen legend Dy Saveth, rising star Ma Rynet and Ros Mony.
"A lost film buried beneath the Killing Fields reveals different versions of the truth. In an abandoned cinema, rebellious teenager Sophoun discovers an old film starring her mother, offering her the chance to dictate her own destiny at last, but at the cost of uncovering some dark secrets from the past about her parents lives during the Khmer Rouge regime."
The Last Reel has already won multiple international awards, including the 'Spirit of Asia' Award for Director Sotho Kulikar at the Tokyo International Film Festival in Japan in October 2014; the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Award for Sok Sothun at the Asean International Film Festival & Awards in Malaysia in April 2015; and the ‘Black Dragon’ Award at the Far East Film Festival in Italy in May 2015.
The Hollywood Reporter
“With The Last Reel, Cambodian cinema’s resurgence as a filmmaking force continues apace... Sotho Kulikar conjures remarkable performances from her lead actresses in an attempt to reflect historical schisms through the tropes of rebellious-daughter family drama.”
Watch the official trailer for The Last Reel: https://youtu.be/Gii_klcdikY

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Saturday, August 15, 2015


In the SOS clinic
Not how I would wish to spend 12 hours, hooked up to monitors, ultrasound at Calmette, x-rays and tests at SOS international clinic. Chronic stabbing pains just under my heart at 9pm yesterday and really appreciate Rumnea's fast reaction to help me, doubled-up, to SOS. Turned out to be a stomach problem rather than heart or lungs, but quite a scare after many years of pretty good health. We can't take anything for granted. Must say the bedside manner of Dr Zerby at SOS was excellent.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Temple in the clouds

Catching up with John Burgess
The re-arranged talk about his new book, Temple in the Clouds, saw author John Burgess recount Preah Vihear's full history, ancient and modern (in brief) at Meta House on Tuesday. It was good to catch up with John and to hear more of his passion for his topics.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Footy selfies

I keep getting dragged into selfies on the pitch after Phnom Penh Crown games. Our fans are really making a difference this year with their vocal support and we remain in 2nd place in the league table, unbeaten after 12 matches.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Facebook - friend or foe?

Facebook - friend or foe? It seems there's an open season, via facebook, by anyone with a grudge, and I seem to have developed a few football enemies recently. Individuals like Sopheaktra Phea and Sam Vandeth have been having a poke at me (the latter even exaggerated his poke by going on television and calling me out) and I am torn between defending my reputation or ignoring their puerile and baseless rants. To-date I've bitten my tongue and done the latter, but it's tiresome in the extreme to have these people poisoning my breathing space. One of their claims is that I look down on Khmer people, which is ridiculous in the extreme, as anyone who knows me, will agree. They have no idea that in the 1990s/2000s, my website on my travels around Cambodia was one of the first by a western traveller to bring the beauty and majesty of Cambodia and her lovely people to a western audience, and that I am the editor of a book, To Cambodia With Love, in which I express my sincere affection for the country and its inhabitants through its 240 pages. My intro for the books says it all:
'This is not a definitive guide to Cambodia. Far from it. It is about inspiration, discovery, sharing, and above all else, a love and a respect for a country that has changed my life forever, as I hope it will change yours.'
People like Sopheaktra Phea and Sam Vandeth have no idea what this country means to me. And they will never understand because they have their own agendas.

Footnote: There were more lies spouted on TV again today, on a second football program. The attacks are very personal and completely without foundation or merit. However I refuse to be drawn into a tit-for-tat public showdown.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meet Jacqueline Bhagavan

Jacqueline Bhagavan - Mrs California-America
Jacqueline Bhagavan has just been crowned Mrs California-America and talks here of her roots in Cambodia and what the beauty pageant title represents. You can find out more about her at www.complexionkitchen.com. She's been involved in numerous charities and advocates for cancer research and empowering women. As hostess of Complexion Kitchen on YouTube, she supports a healthy lifestyle and eating habits.

Q. Where were you born? A. I was born in Pailin, Cambodia.
Q. What are your earliest memories from childhood? A. My early memories have been of struggles, poverty, having to escape my birth country, and finally finding peace in America. Luckily, my parents have made it very palpable for us, giving us unconditional love that made the pain and struggles we experienced as children pale in comparison.
Q. How old were you came to America? A. I was 6 years old. We settled in Houston, Texas.
Q. What were your struggles as a child seeking refuge in America? A. My family and I came to America, like all Khmer refugees, settling in the new homeland, and facing many obstacles with the new language and culture. My father had to find odd jobs to support a family of nine. He and my mother had seven children to take care of and they both worked hard to insure we got the right education to step out from the poverty. 
Q. What are the greatest obstacles you have overcome in your life and how have they shaped you? A. As a child, I had a few set backs with my physical growth and emotional drama.  I was malnourished and had observed such trauma in my life. During our escape, my parents hired two personal guides to help us reach the Thai border. There, I witnessed one of the guides not only rob us and spare our lives, but he took the life of his partner, shot him in broad day light. Although, these blockages and life's suffering did not deter me from having courage and finding my purpose. The malnourishment I experienced as a child prevented me from having hair growth until I was six years old. I also had to play catch up in my ability to process the aptitude needed for school. All of these delayed mental and physical developments did not prevent from becoming successful. I was always a fighter, a go-getter even as a child. Once we got to America and settled, eventually I caught up with other students, and was given an IQ test.  Overnight, I was admitted to the gifted program called G.A.T.E. (Gifted And Talented Education), and my intellectual capacity was unstoppable. Even today, I never make an excuse for why I can't be successful. I stayed focused, endured, I was persistent and  determined to be a success!
Q. Who are your role models? A. My mother and father are my role models. They instilled in me and my siblings the golden values of education, compassion, love, charity and service to others.
Q. What inspired you to pursue the Mrs. California America crown? A. It has always been a dream of mine to be Mrs. California-America as a way to help the American family because this country has generously given so much to me and my family. Family is my top priority. As Mrs. California-America I want to share with married women the importance of taking care of yourself and your family even on a budget with limited time. I have personal experience in what takes to pull a family out of poverty and how important community help can be. I personally believe that anyone given the right education, skills and opportunity deserves an opportunity to succeed. It's important for me to share with others my message of inner beauty, strength, compassion and to never give up on your dreams.
Q. What thoughts did you have in that crowning moment? A. It was a proud moment for me to be crowned Mrs. California-America.  I did not realized I was a winner until I felt the crown on my head.
Q. What values are you most passionate about promoting as Mrs California America? A. The values of family and being together is what I'm promoting.  Also I want to share with married women the importance of taking care of themselves and their family on a budget and with limited time.  Additionally, as a YouTube host of the web show "Complexion Kitchen", I want share with busy moms and women my tips and recipes for cooking healthy meals for their families and helping them be their best, inside and out.
Q. What is your definition of beauty? A. I think true beauty is not only of the physical aspect, but it is much deeper in the soul, your spirit.
Q. How do you view your new responsibility of being a role model? A. I think being a role model is a huge responsibility, one cannot take that role lightly. I think the best role models are your life line circle- your family.
Q. Of what accomplishments are you most proud? A. I am a family woman, and family is my priority above all else. My husband and I work hard to create the foundation of love for our children; this accomplishment is one I am very proud of. In addition to being a mother, creating a show that helps the modern mother.
Q. What Cambodian values have helped you achieve the American dream? A. My parents always stress on having a great education, and that knowledge is not fleeting. Your possessions can be removed and taken away, but not your knowledge. Another value is being honest and having integrity. If you are honest with your intentions, you create a reality that is real and pure. Be true, be real and honest with what you can and cannot do, and coupling that with hard work and humility.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow their dreams as you have? A. Be you, be real, be honest, take risks, have courage (be fearless) and never undermine your integrity. Work hard and have a vision as to why you really want to compete or go for what you are seeking.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Caught in the act

Two more pics, one on the touchlines and one in the office.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Taking aim

I seem to be doing a lot of this recently with the Cambodian football season squashed into a few months, we have matches every weekend and in the middle of the week. I'm in the red jersey on the far right. Sorry but the picture was sent to me and I don't have the name of the photographer.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Short hop

With my colleagues Heang and Dany at the meeting
Popped over to Malaysia for a football meeting on the Asia Champions Trophy Under-18s. Spent a night in Melaka/Malacca and then a night at the airport hotel after missing our Air Asia flight by five minutes. Five blinking minutes. Had a quick whiz around Melaka at night to see a few of the Unesco World Heritage sites but must admit, I wasn't too overwhelmed, though I have been weaned on Angkor, so everything else can't really compare. Looked after well by Frenz our hosts and now looking forward to the competition that begins in August with a visit of our Academy to Japan to play Kashima Antlers.
Melaka's Christ Church at night

The clocktower in front of Christ Church

Confirmation of Melaka's heritage status

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Burgess & Preah Vihear - Cancelled

John Burgess at Meta House Wed 29 July
Author John Burgess will discuss his new book about Preah Vihear - Temple in the Clouds - on Wed 29 July at Meta House.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Time Out picks The Last Reel

Legendary actress Dy Saveth plays the mother in The Last Reel
Time Out New York Picks The Last Reel as one of its Top 10 Films, no less!
The New York Asian Film Festival (‪#‎NYAFF‬) gets underway in NYC and Time Out New York has picked The Last Reel as one of their Top 10 films at the festival: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/movies/the-10-best-movies-at-the-2015-new-york-asian-film-festival
Showtime for The Last Reel is 8.15pm on Sunday 5 July at the Film Society of the Lincoln Center, NY.
If you have been living under a rock in recent months, I will recap. The Last Reel is a story of love, life and a broken society trying to heal by first-time Cambodian female director Kulikar Sotho. It is on the film festival circuit all over the globe at the moment - winning prizes in Tokyoand Italy and will be out in Cambodian cinemas from 4 September. Visit the film's website @ http://www.thelastreel.info. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

New season to begin soon

I try to avoid too much talk on football on this blog, but due to changing my job to being the full-time media man for Phnom Penh Crown, my time has been spent on little else this past month. Especially as the Cambodian football season will begin in earnest this Thursday with our first game at our new RSN Stadium in Toul Kork (pictured above). I urge any Phnom Penh-based readers to come along and watch under the lights at 6pm. It promises to be SPECTACULAR.
Here are the fixtures for PPCFC this season.
Round 1:
Thu 2 July vs Boeung Ket @ RSN Stadium 6pm *LIVE
Sun 5 July vs Nagaworld @ RSN 6pm
Thu 9 July vs Cambodian Tiger @ RSN 6pm *LIVE
Sun 12 Jul vs Asia Europe @ RSN 6pm
Wed 15 Jul vs Army @ RSN 6pm *LIVE
Sat 18 Jul vs CMAC @ RSN 6pm *LIVE
Thu 23 Jul vs Kirivong @ Tonle Bati 3.30pm
Sat 25 Jul vs Western @ Western Stadium 3.30pm
Wed 29 Jul vs BBU @ RSN 6pm
Sat 1 Aug vs National Police @ Army Stadium 3.30pm *LIVE
Wed 5 Aug vs Svay Rieng @ Svay Rieng 6pm LIVE.
Round 2:
Sat 8 Aug vs Svay Rieng @ RSN 6pm
Wed 12 Aug vs Nagaworld @ Olympic 3.30pm
Sat 15 Aug vs Cambodian Tiger @ Western 3.30pm
Sat 12 Sep vs Asia Europe @ RSN 6pm
Wed 16 Sep vs Army @ Army 3.30pm
Sat 19 Sep vs CMAC @ Olympic 3.30pm *LIVE
Thu 24 Sep vs Kirivong @ RSN 6pm
Sat 26 Sep vs Western @ RSN 6pm
Wed 30 Sep vs BBU @ Olympic 6pm
Sat 17 Oct vs National Police @ RSN 6pm
Thu 22 Oct vs Boeung Ket @ Army 3.30pm.
Play-off dates: 28 & 31 Oct, 21 & 22 Nov and Final on 6 Dec.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ghost Money by Andrew Nette

Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of the unstable government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessmen Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up a Cambodian journalist, Quinlan's search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia's bloody past. Ghost Money is a crime novel, but it's also about Cambodia in the mid-nineties, a broken country, what happens to those trapped between two periods of history, the choices they make, what they do to survive.  Christopher G Moore, the author of Zero Hour in Phnom Penh says of the book: ‘Ghost Money captures elements of the noir darkness of that unstable, chaotic time of transition during the mid-nineties in Cambodia. Ghost Money is written by Andrew Nette. It was first published in the USA in 2012 and is now re-published by the Hong Kong-based Crime Wave Press.

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

RSN opens its doors

Rumnea as cheerleader
Great opening day on Friday at RSN Stadium. Everything went swimmingly well, despite a 10-minute power cut at half time during PPCFC's 0-0 draw with Frenz United. Chonburi beat Muangthong 5-1 and both games had much to offer the fans.
2nd day of the RSN Youth Cup on Saturday. 2nd goalless draw for the PPCFC Academy, this time against free-scoring Chonburi from Thailand. A very good result for the home side to hold the same team that won 8-3 in Cambodia last year. Now the destination of the cup rests on the final day. PPCFC (on 2pts) meet Muangthong at 6pm, while the two teams on 4pts each meet in what could be the decider at 4pm, Frenz v Chonburi. Worth coming along and seeing these excellent young footballers strutting their stuff at the new RSN Stadium in Toul Kork.
Rumnea has been running around making herself very busy, cheerleading the young fans in the grandstand, helping out with the half-time penalty competition, clocking in the visiting media and still shouting louder than anyone else.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Krom on

Book this into your diary:
KROM will be live at Meta House on 20 June @ 7PM
A special rare live performance of Phnom Penh band KROM presenting new works from their forthcoming third album Mekong Delta Blues.
Not only will KROM be playing live but they recently released their latest single, CAMBODIA. You can catch the magical Sophea Chamroeun on main vocals, with Christopher Minko backing @ https://metalpostcard.bandcamp.com/album/krom-cambodia. I'm sure you will love it.


Busy bee

Click to enlarge
I've been a bit swamped with changing my job after eight years, waving goodbye to Hanuman Travel and Films, and the first week at Phnom Penh Crown and to cap it all we have a tournament at our new stadium, so its been a bit hectic. Here's the tournament flyer, RSN Youth Cup, with teams from Thailand and Malaysia coming to join PPCFC for a 3-day U-18 tournament this coming weekend. Join us if you can or watch the games live on BTV.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

More Mor

Martin Mor was one of the very best I've seen gracing the comedy stage in Cambodia, as he lifted the lid off tonight's show at Showbox. He could've/should've gone on for much longer as his expletive-laden routine was top class. I watched some of his videos before the gig and he was even better in the flesh so to speak. Loved the way he handled the audience, with his quick wit defeating the beer-influenced front row, whilst engaging others with a deft touch. And not one mention of drugs in his whole set - what a refreshing change. Loved it. More Mor.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Midlands Roots Explosion

A new album, The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One by Reggae Archive Records, to be released next month in various formats, will be welcomed by all British reggae followers I'm sure. It includes Steel Pulse's first single for the very first time on an album. Here are their sleeve notes in full:
Birmingham may be England's second city but when it comes to reggae music, there are plenty of reasons for it to claim first place. Perhaps no band has done more for British reggae than Steel Pulse whilst Musical Youth, not only found chart success but took reggae to the nation's children in a way no other band could, not forgetting UB40 who also experienced huge international success. These bands didn't exist in isolation, Birmingham and the other towns and cities that make up the Midlands were a powerhouse of British reggae. Finally, it's time to shine the spotlight on some of the lesser known acts that spent years performing and recording without achieving those levels of success.
“The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One” from Reggae Archive Records, is the first in a series of compilations that hope to showcase some of the unreleased, forgotten and barely known musical gems from what was such a vibrant scene. It's only appropriate that the first volume leads off with the band that put both Handsworth and Birmingham on the musical map, Steel Pulse. We've included the band's first release from 1976, the very scarce “Kibudu – Mansatta - Abuku,” a track that strongly hinted at the heights they would soon reach. As a bonus, we've also included the instrumental version from the original B side; both tracks are making their debut on LP and CD. For those familiar with Musical Youth's later chart hits, “Political” may come as a surprise, with grown up lead vocals by former member of Jamaican hit makers The Techniques, Frederick Waite Snr., and a hard roots edge to the lyrics. This was the band's first release issued on a small Birmingham label and another track worthy of far wider exposure. Steel Pulse and Musical Youth found fame beyond reggae and reached the national charts. Wolverhampton's Capital Letters may have only topped the reggae charts but they were a hugely successful live act in Europe introducing tens of thousands to live reggae. For this release we've been digging in the tape vaults and discovered “I Will Never”. Previously unreleased, this recording has a harder roots edge than their Greensleeves releases and is all the better for it as they slow the tempo down with a celebration of their faith in Jah.

Contemporaries of Steel Pulse and one of Birmingham's leading bands Eclipse, surely deserved more success. Here we've included “Blood Fi Dem” released as a single in 1981 more; great songs from Eclipse can be found on our previous CD release “Corrupted Society”. The formation of Black Symbol was inspired by fellow Handsworth residents Steel Pulse; here we feature “In The Name of Jah” featuring the band at their spiritual best. We also have a track from Black Symbol spin-off group Oneness, with “Rome,” previously only available on a very hard to find 12”. Black Symbol provided the opportunity for many other Handsworth artists to record their music and this compilation features several: Man From The Hills “Redemption Day”, Sceptre “Ancestors Calling”, Benjamin Zephaniah “Unite Handsworth”, Zephaniah “Free Man” and the fantastic and previously unreleased “Instruments” from Mystic Foundation. Why “Instruments” had laid forgotten on the master tape for thirty years, is unknown but it more than earns it's place on this album as a stand out track. More tracks from Black Symbol and the Handsworth bands can be found on our previous releases; “Black Symbol”, Sceptre's “Essence Of Redemption Ina Dif'rent Styley” and the two volumes of “Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion”. Handsworth's last but by no means least contribution is from Carnastoan with “Mr. Workhard,” the B side of the band's classic 12” single.

Birmingham's contribution is rounded up by Iganda, a band whose long career sadly only produced one 7” single released in 1979; fortunately it was a classic and here we have the A side “Slow Down” The Midlands are further represented by Leicester's Groundation and the nearly 8 minute long monster of a track that is “Fa-Ward”. We've previously reissued this on 12” and hopefully, there are more recordings to come from the Groundation tape vaults.

“The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One” is just a snapshot of the abundance of musical talent in the region during the 1970s and 1980s. It barely scratches the surface but even so, it's one of the strongest reggae compilations available and shows that the English Midlands were second to none when it came to roots reggae. With sleeve notes from Jim Weir who was a musician involved in the Birmingham reggae scene, the album will be released on 29th June available on high quality double vinyl in a deluxe gatefold sleeve, on CD and as a digital download.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Seeking wisdom

A story of survival by Pisey Leng, The Wisdom Seeker, was launched yesterday. It's a tale of survival in Cambodia and of how to overcome adversity. Read an article in the New Zealand press, where Pisey now lives @ http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/68624713/memoirs-of-a-cambodian-survivor.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Fulfilling a dream

Big news...for me anyway. After nearly 8 years, man and boy, at Hanuman Travel & Films, I will bid farewell at the end of this month. When I arrived to live full-time in Cambodia in 2007, it was Hanuman who took me under their wing and gave me a new focus, after I had spent 31 years in the Banking industry in England. It has been a very fulfilling 8 years working in the tourism and film industries but now it's time to move on and from the start of next month, I will be working full-time for Phnom Penh Crown FC at our new headquarters at RSN Stadium in Tuol Kork. Having worked part-time and spare time for professional clubs in England and Cambodia for nearly 40 years - loving every minute of it, even the bad times - I always secretly wanted to work full-time in football, so my dream will soon come true. Even at my age, you can still fulfill your dreams. A lesson for all. To mark this occasion, here's a picture of me just after I had started as the programme editor/ public address announcer/ radio presenter/ newspaper journalist for my hometown team in the mid-70s. Doesn't time fly when you are having fun...

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Hanuman comes home

Hanuman comes home to Cambodia
The Cleveland Museum of Art returned a Hanuman sculpture to Cambodia this week. The Ohio museum acquired the one-metre high statue in 1982. But it now believes that it was “in all likelihood” looted from the 10th century capital of the Khmer kingdom, Koh Ker. Other statues from the same Prasat Chen temple in the ancient city have already been returned to Cambodia by the Metropolitan Museum, the Simon Norton Foundation in Pasadena as well as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, following stories published in The New York Times and The Art Newspaper reporting that they probably came from the looted site. These reports, first published in 2013, were based on a study by the French archeologist Eric Bourdonneau, working for the Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO), who recreated the epic scenes depicted in the temple. Welcome home Hanuman.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thriller in Cambodia

Lawrence Osborne, a British novel writer living in Bangkok, has published his third novel, Hunters in the Dark, which is set in Cambodia and maintains a common theme from his previous novels, featuring westerners running up against, or adrift in, cultures that remain opaque to them. Random House are the publishers and it sounds like they, and Osborne, are onto a winner with this thriller. The online Telegraph in the UK gave it a very positive thumbs up review @ http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/06/hunters-in-dark-lawrence-osborne-review-written.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

River delivers

Can't wait to read two new books picked up from Monument today. Purchased for $17.50 was John Burgess' Temple In The Clouds: Faith & Conflict at Preah Vihear, published by River Books. And added to that, River Books very kindly gave me a complimentary copy of another brand new release, all about one of my favourite temples in Cambodia, namely Banteay Chhmar: Garrison-Temple of the Khmer Empire, written by Peter Sharrock. On the shelves at $33. Glossy, filled with photos (288 in colour) and will be in my grubby little paws when I get home later.

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Another gong for The Last Reel

Kulikar Sotho and her Black Dragon
Big news from Italy and the Udine Far East Film Festival where Cambodia's first-ever screening at this prestigious festival, regarded as Europe's premiere festival for Asian films, saw The Last Reel and Director Kulikar Sotho walk away with the Black Dragon Award, an audience award that is voted for by Black Dragon VIP pass holders, the festival's crème de la crème. Kulikar is now off to the Bentonville in Arkansas, USA for another festival. The Last Reel has recently been screened in Finland, London and Los Angeles and has more festival appearances up its sleeve. Cambodian audiences can expect to catch it in August.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Hinds on early Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse in 1978
Steel Pulse is one of the most successful reggae bands – not just in the U.K. but in the world. Yet it wasn’t always easy for this group. Lead singer and founder David Hinds, the son of Jamaican immigrants, grew up in the rough Birmingham neighborhood of Handsworth in the 1970s during a socially and racially tense period in England. For their forthcoming program “Dread Inna Inglan: How the U.K. Took the Reggae,” producer Saxon Baird spoke with Hinds about his life as a black youth during this volatile period and how reggae and Rastafarianism played a role in the formation of his identity and music. Read the questions and David Hinds' answers @ http://www.afropop.org/16360/babylon-is-falling-david-hinds-on-the-early-years-of-steel-pulse-and-his-youth-in-england/.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

My Cambodia twenty years ago

Last year was the 20th anniversary of my first-ever visit to Cambodia, in November 1994, and to celebrate that seat-of-the-pants trip I wrote an article for my company's quarterly magazine at the time. I've tracked it down and repeat it here for posterity. Reading it now, so many years later, I wish I had been more descriptive about the sights, sounds and smells I encountered, such as the hordes of limbless beggars in ragged military uniforms that invaded the Central Market area every morning, the constant blaring of car horns at all hours of the day, the absence of any street lighting in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap that left me reluctant to venture out of my hotel and the crazy, lawlessness of the city's traffic, amongst a plethora of experiences that overloaded my senses. I was shit-scared at times but for the majority of my six days in Cambodia, I was utterly exhilarated. Here's the article:

Cambodia : A Land of Charm & Cruelty
The name of Cambodia is synonymous with the cries of the tortured and starving and more recently, the murder of western tourists by the genocidal Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of over one million of their fellow countrymen in the late 1970s. However, that was my choice of destination for a week's break from the rigours of C&G life at Chief Office in late October [1994]. Cambodia, racked by civil war for the last twenty-five years, is one of the world's poorest countries with a population of nine million, the majority of whom live in abject poverty by western standards. Conversely, it is also a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and people and a history brought vividly to life by one of the world's greatest architectural achievements, the temple ruins of Angkor.

The country had captivated my attention since I was drawn to the suffering of its people in John Pilger's 1979 documentary, Year Zero. My interest was sustained as a member of parliamentary lobbying groups whose aim was to bring to an end the isolation they'd endured at the hands of the international community. A fragile peace had been achieved following the 1993 UN-supervised elections that had ushered in the country's first democratically-elected government and for the first time in recent history, the country had opened its borders to the more adventurous tourist.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of my trip was the three days I spent exploring the dramatic ruined cities of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Flying from Phnom Penh, the capital, to the northern provincial centre of Siem Reap, I was unprepared for the awesome array of massive stone temples, wide majestic causeways, imposing towers and gates and beautifully intricate stone carvings that I encountered. The monuments were originally constructed by a dozen Khmer god-Kings between the 9th and 13th centuries but had lain hidden by dense jungle for nearly 500 years until their re-discovery by the French in the latter part of the last century. Alongwith my guide Soy Bun and driver Somath, I leisurely wandered for hours amongst the almost-deserted ruins before completing a whistle-stop tour of the lesser-visited outer-lying temples.

For sheer size, the vast spectacle of Angkor Wat, the largest religious edifice in the world, is simply stunning. Its central tower, surrounded by four smaller towers, a myriad of galleries and covered passageways and an 800-metre long series of richly carved bas-reliefs will linger long in the memory, particularly a dawn visit to watch the sun rise and bathe the temple complex in swathes of red and orange light (Note: I was the only foreign tourist that morning for sun rise). Perhaps more startling, although smaller and less restored, is the Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom. Its most intriguing feature - although its bas-reliefs are extraordinarily detailed - are the giant faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with its enigmatic half-smile peering down from all four sides of the fifty-four towers. Amongst the other temples to make a lasting impression were the well-preserved Preah Khan - a labyrinth of fascinating pavilions, halls and galleries, and the temple of Ta Prohm. The latter has been left much as it was when it was first re-discovered - a mass of silk-cotton and fig trees, tangled roots and vines and fallen masonry, framing an eerie and haunting scene.

Phnom Penh on the other hand, was an altogether different proposition. It is a city in transformation. The once-elegant French-colonial capital became a ghost town when the Khmer Rouge forcibly emptied it of all its inhabitants in 1975. Today, parts of Phnom Penh are undergoing frenzied reconstruction, although life remains unchanged in the city's back alleys, where the majority of the one million populace live in hovels without basic amenities. Negotiating the traffic - a multitude of mopeds, cyclos and bicycles jockeying with private cars and trucks - was a nerve-wracking experience, the loss of my suitcase at the ramshackle airport for three days was a nightmare but nothing could prepare me for my sobering visit to see the graphic reminders of the cruelty inflicted on the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge. At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - a former high school turned into a torture centre and prison - my guide Kin gave me a tour of room after room of torture implements, photographs and other evidence testifying to the atrocities of the Pol Pot-inspired regime. Ten kilometres outside the city are the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek, where at least 17,000 people were taken from Tuol Sleng, brutally murdered and buried in mass graves. A memorial glass tower at the site is filled with the cracked skulls of some 8,000 of those victims and is definitely not for the squeamish. I left Cambodia with many lasting memories, enriched by my experiences and eager to return to this fascinating country in the not too distant future. (Note: I returned every year until I moved to live in Phnom Penh in 2007).

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sok Sothun receives Asean Award

LtoR: Sok Sothun, Kulikar Sotho, Nick Ray
Sok Sothun wins Best Supporting Actor at the Asean International Film Festival & Awards 2015 in Malaysia to once again highlight the Cambodian film The Last Reel on the international stage. The veteran actor scooped the Best Supporting Actor award at AIFFA2015 for his portrayal of Vichea in the movie, the directorial debut of Kulikar Sotho. The Cambodia team enjoyed a star-studded Gala Dinner at the Borneo Convention Centre, Kuching, together with celebrity guests Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. Director Kulikar Sotho and Actor Ros Mony were on hand to accept the award on behalf of Sok Sothun. The film was also nominated for two other awards, Best Supporting Actress (Dy Saveth) and Best Editing (Katie Flaxman). A big thank you goes out to the Sarawak Government and the Ministry of Tourism for the generous invitation to join AIFFA 2015 in Kuching and the chance to bring The Last Reel to a wider Asean audience. More recognition for the resurgent Cambodian film industry!

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pulse in the house

Steel Pulse 2015 edition
Steel Pulse opened tonight (1 April) in the first of their 5 UK shows - Blaenau Ffestiniog, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Brighton - bringing their whole 1978 album Handsworth Revolution to the stage, followed by their usual array of marvellous tunes. Really regretting not busting a gut to get back to Blighty for the first time in 8 years to see them in the flesh at all five shows. I'm sure they will have a ball on their 40th anniversary tour. Reggae music at its finest.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Get along to Meta House

Robert Carmichael’s new book When Clouds Fell From The Sky spans five lives and five decades as it covers the causes and consequences of the Khmer Rouge’s catastrophic 1975-79 rule, which cost two million lives. A Q&A with the author at the Monument Books-presented Book Launch at Meta House on Thursday 9 April at 7pm.
Also coming to Meta House soon will be French photographer Roland Neveu, who was one of the few foreigners who stayed behind when most of the press corps left Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge arrived on 17 April 1975. The few 35-mm films which he shot that day are some of the only remaining images of that time. Meta House exhibits them to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh. Roland will be present and hold a talk at 8pm on the rooftop on Tuesday 21 April. Exhibition opens at 6pm.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marc and his Space Project

How remiss of me. I forgot to mention that the Cambodian Space Project was the focus of a BBC 4 Storyville documentary earlier this month. Director Marc Eberle's Rocking Cambodia: Rise of a Pop Diva was screened to millions in the UK. Here are Marc's answers to Storyville's QandA on the BBC website:
What made you first want to explore the subject?
One night in 2002, I was sitting outside Phnom Penh’s then most popular watering hole and nightclub, The Heart of Darkness. The street was deserted and a bright full Moon painted everything in diffuse grey. There were no streetlights and no tarmac and the red laterite dust suffocated all sound like snowflakes. From a distance, I could hear a small transistor radio playing an old song from the golden years of Cambodia’s past. “I’m only 16 years old and my life opens up like a flower…gimmie some love, gimmie some love…lalalalalala”… sang the “Golden Voice of Phnom Penh” Ros Sereysothea. It is the same song we have used at the beginning of the film in the pre-title. I didn’t know the song back then and a Cambodian friend at the table told me that the singer was still very famous in Cambodia and that she’d been killed under Pol Pot.
The sound of her voice was immediately cutting through to me. The aura it had was remarkable.
Then and there, I was hooked on the music.
The voice kept singing, it gave me the shivers and I felt like I was looking straight into the Heart of Darkness.
Having lived in Phnom Penh for some years I learned more and more about the music and singers and was looking for an angle to tell the story of Cambodia’s vibrant artistic past with a focus on the era of the 1960s until the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975.
When I met Julien and Srey Thy in December 2009, and when they told me they were starting a band together that would be riffing on Cambodian rock evergreens from the 1960s it immediately clicked. As soon as I heard that I suggested I would make a film about them. Luckily they agreed!
I wanted to make a film that tells of the resurrection of arts and culture in a society that had undergone a complete cultural collapse, and a film that tries to capture the funkiness of the people and the culture that I thought was so prevalent in the whole place. Adopting that approach was a challenge in itself. During the course of filming far greater challenges would come my way.

How long did it take to get the film off the ground?
It has taken 5 years to complete, I started filming in December 2009 – 3 weeks after I’d met Julien and Srey Thy, right from the get go when the band started. When I began filming Srey Thy attempting to capture her thoughts and personality it became clear that my role of director/cameraman would go beyond simply following her in observational mode. It became a balancing act of maintaining the formal filmmaker-subject relationship while also supporting her in the massive transition her life was taking as the front lady in a rock’n’roll band. My main aide was Srey Roath, translator and sound-woman, who was also a student of psychology. Roath understood very well the dilemma and problems Srey Thy was facing trying to survive day by day seeking to build a future for both her family of five and herself. Currently approx. 40% of Cambodians live in abject poverty and are faced with the same problems, but it is mostly women who have to bear the weight of it and are sent out to bring home money–whichever way they can. Some people say that this is due to Cambodian tradition and the Woman’s code of conduct, which is handed down from mother to daughter and also taught in schools. Yet, tradition also features the Man’s code of conduct, which isn’t practiced anymore and frowned upon like a relic of the past.
Very early on in the shoot I talked with Srey Thy about what it meant for her to participate in a film and tell her story to the world. Unlike most women in her position she was neither shy nor scared to talk about her past as sex worker. Quite to the contrary she said that she hoped she could make a difference by telling other girls and young women out there what happened to her so that they would know and hopefully make better-informed choices than her.
I kept pitching the film project at festivals and markets, there was interest from broadcasters, but no contract and no budget, so I refreshed my skills as a bass player again and joined the band for their tour through Australia – the only way for me to pay for the shoot/trip.

What were you most surprised to learn in the course of production?
One of the biggest challenges was researching the historical background. Sadly as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s attempt to obliterate Culture the availability of documents, films and songs from the period 1960-75 is poor. Research and exploration for this film involved pioneering work into the obscured fields of Cambodian rock’n’roll and Cambodia’s cinematic legacy predating the Khmer Rouge-induced cultural collapse. This work was both uplifting and tragic. During the making of this film I unearthed musical recordings, precious scraps of Cambodian films believed to be completely lost, and other previously unseen archival material.
Filmmaker friend Jim Gerrand opened up his garage and went through reels of 16mm film that he filmed in Battambang in 1971 and found previously unused footage of band rehearsals with singer Song Seng Horn. We also found footage that demonstrated well how rock music and modern dance was brought to the countryside by the King. In the rushes of an old CBS TV show we found a reel of King Sihanouk visiting the provinces with uniformed dancers twisting on stage and the King clapping in the background. Priceless. We found rare documentary footage from Phnom Penh in the late 1960s shot by a French cameraman Jean-Pierre Janssen who was here filming for a feature film that he never completed. We came a cross a KR propaganda film I’d never seen anywhere that was originally produced for the international market with Chinese help, but then never had been released.
Last but not least, I came across the last few remaining photographs of Pen Ran, even one of her singing in the studio, when Seng Dara, music lover extraordinaire showed his archive to me.
A very important part of the archival process was finding high quality recordings of songs as they originally sounded. Most of Cambodia’s rock’n’roll song recordings resurfaced in the 1990s – but with new overdubs that added a new, contemporary punch to the music. Many of the tracks sold at markets and available as downloads are these new and somewhat compromised versions. Enter Hen Sophal, a painter in his sixties, who had hunted down and amassed the biggest collection of songs, often by risking his own life in a time during the early 1980s when Rock’n’Roll was still outlawed in Cambodia. Himself a passionate connoisseur and in love with the music he happily agreed to provide original recordings of the songs for the soundtrack.
The pinnacle of shooting the historic backstory was finding out more about Pen Ran, Srey Thy’s idol (and inspiration), and Cambodia’s most famous yet enigmatic female singer of the so-called Golden Era. Everybody in Cambodia, whether young or old, knows her name and her voice. But nobody knows any details about her life. Today, a total of four photographs are all that remains and there is no moving (film) footage of her. With the help of a group of students we visited a village two hours south of Phnom Penh in order to find out what really happened to Cambodia’s most celebrated and mysterious female singer.

What is more important, story or character?

It always depends on the grammar of the film and how much the story is plot driven or character driven. Each film has to find its own balance between plot and characters.
The crux that editor Andrea Lang and myself had to solve was, how much story and how much of the characters do we need to develop in the shortest amount of screen time and be able to pay it off at the end. Four years of rushes and roughly sixty years of history of Cambodia is a lot of ground to cover, so clearly this film is a plot driven story that requires many emotionally charged moments of telling and showing of character- all told in the best visual way possible.

Which documentary has most inspired you?
Little Dieter needs to fly (1997), Grizzly Man (2005), by Werner Herzog.
Hearts of Darkness – A filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola.
Favourite Website/blog?
Re Cambodia
Person you’d most like to interview (living or dead?)
Hitler and Elvis.
Best piece of filmmaking advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s only a film!
If money was no object, what is your dream documentary subject?
Life, the universe and everything.
Favourite film of all time?
Apocalypse Now!
Most difficult access?
Long Cheng, Laos-former CIA airbase.
Best recent read?
The Man with the Golden Mind.

You can read another article, by Marc himself on the BBC website @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1GB8bQ4x19MhhdZnqRFJ1bd/bringing-the-mythical-golden-hong-to-life.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Sarah's in town

With Sarah in the foyer of the Patio Hotel
Dinner at Deco tonight with the lovely Sarah O'Brien, after she arrived in Phnom Penh on a brief whistle-stop visit. Sarah was telling me of her first-ever trip to Cambodia back in 1997 that inspired her to pen the Winds of Angkor musical. She's been back a few times since including when she brought a WOA musical highlights package to the Chaktomuk Theatre stage in 2010, as well as a performance at the Angkor temples. When Sarah is not engrossed in musicals and making documentaries, she's a cellist of some repute, touring often with international artist Yanni or supporting singers of the ilk of Celine Dion or Andrea Bocelli. And a really great friend as well. She's a Nottingham lass but now lives in Los Angeles.

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When Clouds Fell out in April

Phnom Penh-based author Robert Carmichael talks about his new book, When Clouds Fell From the Sky: A Disappearance, A Daughter’s Search and Cambodia’s First War Criminal, which is due out in April. "My book weaves the stories of five people whose lives intersected to catastrophic effect in the maelstrom of 1970s Cambodia, and explains how the consequences of that collision remain relevant today. In 1977 a young Cambodian diplomat called Ouk Ket was recalled to Phnom Penh from his post in Senegal. He was under the impression that he would take part in the rebuilding of his country, but on his return he was taken to the Khmer Rouge’s secret prison, known as S-21, where he was held for six months, tortured and finally executed. In a country as rigidly Communist as Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Ket - a royalist - was a class enemy. Left behind in France were his wife, Martine, whom Ket had met while studying in Paris, and their two children. Their daughter, Neary, was just two when Ket left and the family never heard from him again. It was years before they knew what had happened to Ket and it took even longer to come to terms with his fate.
Ket had grown up in Phnom Penh and was close to his cousin Sam Sady. When the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in April 1975, Sady, her family and Ket’s family were among the 2.5 million people forcibly evacuated into brutal agricultural cooperatives. Sady’s story recounts how Pol Pot’s 1975-79 rule affected ordinary Cambodians when around 2 million people, or one in four of the population, died. The person linking them is Comrade Duch, the former head of S-21, where at least 15,000 so-called enemies of the revolution were tortured and executed. Fewer than a dozen inmates survived. In 2009 Duch was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, found guilty and sentenced to 35 years. He appealed, and in 2012 was jailed for life. The paths of these five people crossed in the 1970s and again in 2009 when Neary and Martine testified as civil parties at Duch’s trial to tell the UN-backed court how Ket’s disappearance and murder had shattered their lives. The book will be published in April 2015, the 40th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge."
You can read an interview with the author in The Diplomat @ http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/cambodia-when-clouds-fell/. The book website is @ http://www.whencloudsfell.com.

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