Saturday, April 11, 2009

Diverse story-telling

Em Theay (left) recounts her survival story on stage in The Continuum. Kulikar Sotho is the narrator on the right.
The remarkable survival story of Em Theay, and others including her daughter Preap, told in the filmed version of the extraordinary travelling theatre performance piece, The Continuum: Beyond the Killing Fields, was screened at Bophana this afternoon. Filmed in 2001 by director Ong Keng Sen, it's an eclectic mix of spoken word, dance, song, shadow puppetry, video, memoir and music with septuagenarian Theay as the central figure around which the theatre piece, and documentary, revolves. The play premiered at Yale University in America and was seen in Berlin, Rotterdam, Vienna, Singapore, Phnom Penh, London and Gothenberg in Sweden, bringing the heart-rending survival story of Theay to new audiences in a unique, emotional and experimental fashion. Poignantly, the film begins with an offering to the teachers - kru - of the artists, a ritual that is done before any performance of the classical arts, as we see Theay doing what she does best, teaching and imparting her gift of knowledge to others. On a darkened stage, the film shows the performers telling their stories in Khmer, some with translation, some not though the audience were provided with printed scripts in English, whilst traditional giant shadow puppets and dance are also used against a background of modern acoustic music and lighting. It was such an experimental piece of theatre that I found myself wanting to know what Theay thought about exposing her sad story in this unusual fashion. Next time I meet her, I will certainly ask.
Nico from Meta House introduces Kulikar Sotho and Nick Ray of Hanuman Films
I was accompanied to The Continuum by my pal Sophoin and after the film finished we headed straight for Meta House and another bout of film screenings, this time as part of the Hanuman Film Night that I helped to arrange. Hanuman Films don't produce or direct films and documentaries, but they do everything else to make them happen and founders Nick Ray and Kulikar Sotho, who just happened to be the narrator for The Continuum performances, gave the audience a behind-the-scenes taste of the Hollywood blockbuster Tomb Raider from 2000, a BBC Timewatch documentary on Pol Pot (2005) and a Vietnam Special from the popular BBC programme Top Gear, filmed just a few months ago. Three very different productions but a good cross-section of the work Hanuman are involved in and I think the three-hour film and Q&A session worked rather well.
The BBC's Timewatch series documentary on Pol Pot from 2005
A scene from the Pol Pot documentary

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