Man of many talents - Rithy Dourng
Q. Can you fill me in on your background? A. I was born in Cambodia in 1983, I grew up in a village called Praek Kdam as one of only two, maybe three Chinese-Khmer families there. One of my most vivid memories from my childhood is when the village came under attack, which happened a few times, from alleged Khmer Rouge rebels. I remember the terror on the night, jumping out of my bed, running for cover under the house, seeing flashes of flame and feeling the force whenever a rocket-propelled grenade was fired. My mother sought protection from the land itself, putting some dirt on her head and praying for our safety.
Q. How did you and your family end up in Australia? A. My uncle facilitated the sponsorship of my family to relocate to Australia, so we went in 1994. I am now based in Victoria, in a suburb called Springvale.
Q. How did you get into acting and what have been your experiences to-date? A. Would you believe me if I told you I used to have stage fright? It's true, I would always try and blend in and not standout from the crowd too much, so appearing on stage or in front of a camera would be the last thing you'd catch me doing. This went on until I got to Year 11, then a theatre director visited my school to recruit students to perform in a series of theatre productions known as Theatre of the Oppressed and guess what? I signed up and have loved acting ever since.
Acting-wise, I have appeared in two feature films; the first is The Red Sense with Tim Pek directing. My character is one of the lead roles and is called Max. I had a speaking part as Heng in the Michael James Rowland-directed film Lucky Miles, which won the best film award at the Sydney Film Festival in 2007. I also had a lead role as Kevin in a short film called Chhay, which was directed by Michael Blogg. Other appearances have included music videos like Who?, Why Is Love Like This?, Butterfly and I Miss You, on stage with fashion shows and student ceremonies, I was on Cambodia's TVK television very recently as a presenter of Cambodian New Year in Australia and I've also done voice-overs for Radio Australia.
Q. How did you get involved in The Red Sense? A. By chance really. Tim Pek and I have always wanted to make a film together so it was just a matter of time before it happened. One November day, I'd just come out of my final exam when Tim texted me saying he was going to make a film. We then spent many nights staying up late to develop the story, create the characters and basically pull everything together. For The Red Sense, I played multiple roles, in front and behind the camera, as co-writer, screenwriter, actor, assistant director and subtitle editor.
Q. Any insights into your role as an actor in the film? A. As one of the creators of this project, acting in the film was, to some extent, easier than if I was to act in a film written by someone else. This is because I created the character, I wrote the dialogues, everything was there in one package in front of me. I didn't have to spend time studying the film, putting two and two together, trying to understand the character.
Q. What do you want the audience to take from the film? A. I just want to share one simple message with the audience; and that is to let bygones be bygones, it's not easy I know but more often than not, it's probably one of the best things to do in life.
Q. Will a Khmer audience view the film differently to a non-Khmer audience? A. The message in the film is universal, I mean anyone, anywhere can relate to loss, suffering and trauma, so in that sense I don't see how views would differ much between a Khmer and a non-Khmer audience. However, it is important to acknowledge that this film portrays a piece of Cambodia's history and the lives of Cambodians abroad, so in that sense, a Khmer audience can feel that the story belongs to them. For them its personal, they may not have been directly affected by it, but they will know that 'this is what my parents, grand-parents, aunties, and uncles went through.'
Q. How do you see this film contributing to the genre of Cambodian filmmakers? A. A film is a film regardless of its genre, what's important is how well it's made and that it works. Part of the aim of this film is to contribute the different aspects in the whole film-making process, the sound, the visual, the camera angle, the subtitles, etc. Bearing in mind that the film started roughly five years ago, we would have been the first Cambodian filmmakers to introduce these standard aspects to the Cambodian film industry.
Q. What does the future hold? A. Since working on The Red Sense, I appeared in an Australian film called Lucky Miles, as I mentioned before, which was well received and for the time being, I will continue with my acting and see where that takes me.
Link: Find out more about The Red Sense here.