Sunday, July 31, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
Labels: 2011 WOVD World Cup
Filming in Cambodia
Brother Number One : in Cambodia
Hanuman Films' Kulikar Sotho was the line producer for Brother Number One. We caught up with her in London for an interview about the film and, more broadly, about shooting in the Mekong Delta.
Kulikar's connection to the subject-matter of Brother Number One is a very personal one. Her uncle was executed in the same prison as Kerry Hamill, having been called back to Cambodia from what was then Czechoslovakia by Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (one of the surviving Khmer Rouge government currently on trial). Kulikar's father was also executed by the regime, for having an international outlook. He was a civil aviation pilot and well educated – both things considered threatening to the agrarian society the Khmer Rouge was determined to recreate.
Annie Goldson has spoken about wanting to include and acknowledge Cambodians' experiences in Brother Number One so as not to focus entirely on Rob Hamill's experience. As one of those affected, Sotho found it very challenging. “Every time I have worked on Khmer Rouge-related documentaries, it opens a Pandora's Box of emotions, as I have to face my own loss and suffering.” In Brother Number One, she also acted as interpreter for several of the meetings between Hamill and Cambodians, including “senior Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the policies that killed so many of my family … (who) deny everything when the evidence is so overwhelming. Brother Number One was special as it was a shared journey with Rob, someone who had also experienced a huge loss because of the Khmer Rouge regime. We shared our loss and discovered the truth together and that helped to share the pain.”
A young child at the time of the Khmer Rouge coup Sotho has, like generations of Cambodians, lived her life under the shadow of what the regime did to the country and its population. Before becoming involved in film and TV production the company she helped found, Hanuman, had travel as its main focus initially before becoming a destination management company. Its first major contract was ticketing the thousands of UN personnel despatched to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Hanuman Travel is still going strong, handling the visits of thousands of tourists each year to the Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Kulikar`s partner in Hanuman (and in life) is Nick Ray, writer for Lonely Planet and author of six guidebooks to Cambodia. The travel and destination management experience provided a solid bedrock on which to build the film servicing business as many of the services visiting crews require are the same as Hanuman provides tourists – hotel bookings, transport, guides and translators. The company also has what Kulikar described as “very knowledgeable fixers” for all the other issues that need dealing with, such as permitting.
Following location work on smaller documentaries and films the big break into film servicing, and with it the creation of Hanuman Films, came in 2000 when Paramount contracted Nick and Kulikar as Location Manager and Line Producer for the first major international production to shoot in Cambodia since the mid-sixties, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Hanuman was instrumental in securing permissions for some of the temple shoots, despite strong opposition within government, as well as the logistics of road-freighting large amounts of equipment into remote parts of country, which involved the army building a couple of new bridges. Since then, Hanuman has become well-established and a regular partner of broadcasters the BBC, Al Jazeera and a raft of documentary production companies and netwroks including Discovery and the History Channel. Perhaps strangely it remains the only such film servicing company in Cambodia.
On Brother Number One Kulikar worked closely with the crew on arranging all filming permissions for the shoot to go ahead. The trial of Comrade Duch, at which Hamill spoke, was the first one heard by the specially-convened court. Sotho explained some of the difficulty of creating the documentary in that environment. “Khmer Rouge-related issues are still very sensitive in Cambodia, particularly when set against the backdrop of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. There is a lot of debate about whether cases 3 and 4 can and will move forward and some of the individuals involved in these controversial cases were also key players in the story that Rob and Annie wanted to tell. It was very challenging to try and encourage some of these senior ex-Khmer Rouge figures to talk openly about their roles in the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime, particularly with the ongoing trial. Given the backgrounds of some of these individuals, you need to be careful when to push hard and how far you can realistically push. However, as Rob and I shared a personal stake in this story, I think we went as far as humanly possible to get to the bottom of the story.”
Although most people know little of Cambodia beyond the Khmer Rouge and the Angkor Wat temple, Hanuman gets to work on a wide variety of productions, including ones with down under connections. Kiwi director Martin Campbell shot Beyond Borders there in 2002. Prior to Campbell's involvement, Hanuman did the location scouting when the project was still in the hands of Oliver Stone. Once Stone dropped out as director and Campbell took over, Hanuman worked with the production's art department sourcing local materials and props. Most recently, Hanuman has worked on Aussie feature Wish You Were Here (fka Say Nothing). It was, said Kulikar, “the biggest Southern Hemisphere shoot we have done, a complex 10-day shoot in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville with a somewhat sensitive script. The shoot included several crucial night scenes, but everything went very smoothly. Everyone involved in the production loved Cambodia, especially Director Kieran Darcy-Smith.”
Due for release by Hopscotch later this year (in Australia at least), the film features Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price and Antony Starr as two couples who go on holiday together but one of them doesn't make it back. Naturally, Kulikar would be happy to see more antipodean productions heading to Cambodia to shoot, and noted some of its unique attractions. “Angkor Wat, the world's largest temple; the Bayon, one of the world's weirdest; and the perfect film set that is Ta Prohm, where nature has reclaimed the stones. “Cambodia is an up and coming location so has not been shot to death as in the case of established Asian locations such as Thailand or the Philippines. It is creating a buzz as a destination for virgin locations with unrivalled temples, pristine period locations and flexible crew.”
For the producer in your life, she also gave an overview of the economics. “It is also very affordable for film makers with one eye on the budget. Crew rates are generally a lot cheaper than in more developed destinations in the region. There aren't really any major incentives in place, but then taxes are already pretty low by western standards and there is no requirement to have official government minders in places on set. That is a relief compared with up and coming countries like Vietnam.”
Inbound productions from the UK, US and Australia/NZ make up the bulk of Hanuman's workload and income. Hanuman Films is a main vendor for the BBC in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. According to Kulikar, “That brings a lot of work ranging from the Top Gear Vietnam special through to an earlier Brother Number One for BBC Timewatch, a popular history programme. Television is probably still the main bread and butter (or rice and noodles), but commercials are a growing area and we have supported some signature shoots for Pepsi, Cisco and TUI through Radical Media of London. Films are small but growing. And each time they come around they are definitely not small, but very big in terms of organisation and focus.”
While inbound production is Hanuman's biggest earner, there is a reasonable amount of local film and TV work of which Hanuman has a small piece. After a few quiet decades, the film industry is recovering. According to Sotho, “new generation of young film-makers is emerging inspired by the success of people like French-Cambodian director Rithy Panh.” Rithy's S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine about the Tuol Sleng prison where Kerry Hamill died, picked up over a dozen awards on the international festival circuit in 2003-4 including the François Chalais Award at Cannes. A decade earlier, he was nominated for the Palme d'Or for drama Neak Sre (Rice People). With bitter irony, it addressed the issue that – barely a decade after the end of the Khmer Rouge's agrarian revolution - the country was incapable of growing enough rice to support its population.
With the obvious exception of the ongoing Khmer Rouge trials, the first of which being the focus of Brother Number One, Cambodia is looking forward and growing its economy. The film and TV industry is a very small part of that growth at present, but – as it hasn't been over-shot and remains cheap by international standards – it is growing. Sotho would naturally be happy for that to continue and for Hanuman to continue to grow with it. “Any Australian or New Zealand productions that are thinking of shooting in Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam will be in safe hands.” Which, happily, is a major step forward from the experience of Kerry Hamill back in the 1970s.
Labels: Royal University of Fine Arts
Thursday, July 28, 2011
In my absence
There's a new community-based tourism project that is being officially unveiled next week, called Trapeang Roung, in the Cardamom Mountains corridor, next to the successful Chiphat project, both of which are under the Wildlife Alliance umbrella of support. As soon as I have more detailed information on the new project I'll let you have it, though it will be more of the same as Chiphat, so will feature trekking and mountain-biking opportunities for the adventurous, whilst helping the local community to prosper. You get the idea.
Labels: 2011 WOVD World Cup
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Exhibiting her home
Labels: Kanitha Tith
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Rain stopped play
Labels: 2011 WOVD World Cup
Monday, July 25, 2011
The Cambodian disabled volleyball team play the third of their WOVD World Cup matches tonight at 6pm at Olympic Stadium against the favourites Germany. As long as the rain holds off I will get along to watch this one, as it promises to be a cracker of a game. Cambodia and Germany have won both of their opening matches.
Postscript: The Germans are so thick-skinned that they don't realise that everyone and their dog dislikes their ruthless efficiency. They displayed it again this evening when they put paid to the host country, Cambodia, 3-1 in sets in front of a partisan home crowd after Cambodia opened up by winning the 1st set. After that it was pretty much downhill and most of it was due to the German's effectiveness in returning service and Cambodia's excitability at the net. The German's aren't the number 1 team in the world for nothing. They grind teams down, show little flair and almost bore you to death. Annoyingly, they are very successful as a result of their style of play. For much of the final set I worked up a sweat by waving a large Cambodian flag but to no avail. The support from the big crowd was great but on the day, the Germans were just too good.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Labels: Scott Bywater
Dash da Gun
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The glam world of film
From Transformers to Louis Vuitton: Filming on location in Cambodia - by James Peak
It’s frequently said that not much doubles for South East Asia, apart from the Asian South East. One very cheap and cheerful emerging option for all your Vietnamese, Philippine, Thai, Lao, Indonesian and Malaysian needs is Cambodia, as Transformers and Two Brothers have established. Such was the power of Roland Joffe’s triple Oscar-winning The Killing Fields back in 1984, that for many people it is still the first thing that springs to mind when considering Cambodia. But the Cambodian Film Commission (CFC) is home to a knowledgeable gentleman named Cedric Eloy, who paints a surprisingly modern picture of an ancient country that is a cornerstone of international production: “About ten years ago shooting in Cambodia could be a real challenge as nothing was organised and there was no real service industry. Then a few projects, including Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers, set us new standards. Since then a film-friendly development policy made its way in and thanks to a few officials and film professionals the infrastructure of Cambodia has improved at every level.”
Cedric explains that 2010 saw Cambodia shift up a couple of gears. International feature film production increased 400%, including Chantal Akerman’s arthouse movie La Folie Almayer and the juggernaut that was Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which reportedly enjoyed unfettered access to the famed Angkor temples and a dizzying degree of local helpfulness in the capital Phnom Penh. In addition, Louis Vuitton had Angelina Jolie return to be photographed by Annie Leibowitz. Also, a series of HSBC commercials has just wrapped. Cedric is vastly experienced at shooting all over the country and reels off a list of exactly why they are so busy with international productions: “We provide productions with experienced people for all departments and CFC does continuous training with international film professionals. Now Cambodian crews have better language skills than in other South East Asian countries and there are now excellent set construction teams that allow producers to build large structures for a third of what it would cost anywhere else. We also have blossoming props duplication and costume copying services that set designers appreciate, as our textile industry is huge.
“We have new lighting and grip equipment and other kit if it’s easily sourced in Bangkok, which is 40 minutes away by air. Also, the large expat community in Cambodia due to the presence of more than 3,000 Non-Government Organisations and foreign businesses makes it easy to find Caucasian extras. The road and hotel infrastructures, as well as widespread internet and mobile networks (3.5G) have improved the country’s capacity to host larger productions. We also have specialist professional helicopter companies, speedboat rental and motor homes for actors, all of which have developed to meet the needs of this expanding industry.”
Cedric is also keen to set out the fiscal stall as well, showing lots of evidence that Cambodia will not break the budget: “Cambodia has a very basic tax system so there are no social charges for employment of labour and services are taxed very little in general. It makes it a country where things are four times cheaper than in Europe, which means that we can say 30% to 70% off your normal production budget, but it does not fit to promote it as an incentive. Film-related imports are considered temporary imports and so are not taxed when coming in or going out. Also there are no ATA carnet fees. Foreign salaries and actors’ salaries are not taxed. Incentives are an asset in countries where life is expensive but a production budget in Cambodia is lower.”
Nick Ray, of Hanuman Films, one of the leading film services companies in Cambodia, is just as buoyant as Cedric: “TV stars like Gordon Ramsay and Charley Boorman rated our country as a highlight of their journeys or series in Asia. Radical Media liked it so much they came to Angkor twice in three months, first for Pepsi and then again for Tui. As we speak we have our first 3D production – shooting at Angkor – and a potential IMAX project as well.”
Camerado's Jason Rosette, founder of film festival CamboFest, and now working on his third feature film Freedom Deal, encourages all new international clients to look beyond the traditional, established attractions, such as the largest temple in the world at Angkor Wat: “There is so much here. Cambodia is developing rapidly and has a lot of understated, under-utilised looks. It offers a solid, thoughtful, progressive and modern sensibility as well. If producers are seeking fresh, original Asian locations then Cambodia should be on the list. Even living in the capital of Phnom Penh you can take a boat across the Mekong and feel like you stepped back in time hundreds of years as you wander the dusty road and rice paddies.”
Nicholas Simon, a 15-year veteran of Cambodia with film servicer Indochina Productions, believes that currently Cambodia’s costs are on a par with Thailand and Vietnam, but points to advantages over these places in the form of unspoiled and un-filmed locations, great wildlife (from river dolphins to Asian elephants) and an array of cosmopolitan an modern Asian and French colonial settings: “In Phnom Penh we have recently doubled for Chechnya, Paris, Washington, DC, and the Philippines among others. Directors from Matt Dillon (City of Ghosts), Mouse McCoy/Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) to Vincent Ward and Carlton Chase all either want to come back or already have. And right now we are bidding for a number of TV commercials and photo shoots, as well as producing a yet-to-be-announced period feature with Graham Leader to be shot entirely in Cambodia.”
The Cambodian Government has seen the value of a solid film industry, perhaps in part because former King Sihanouk made several of his own feature films in the 1960s. All the producers TLG spoke to were keen to point how just how quick and efficient servicing production is nowadays, as Cedric explains: “Shooting is seen by the Government as an activity that generates income for the country and that reduces poverty, which is a primary goal of the Government. The CFC has worked with the Angkor temple site to simplify the permitting process and create a rate policy that is really clear. The temples are now easily accessible to all foreign production with a straightforward process.”
Jason Rosette adds: “Cambodians are very hard workers, very skilled with manual crafts (construction, wardrobe), good-natured and eager to learn. In general, the average Cambodian speaks English much more readily than in Thailand. No union rules and lax tax implementation can make up for the lack of formal incentives.”
For Nick, it is the lack of Government intervention that is a big win: “The current Government is really open to promoting Cambodia to the international film industry and its diverse locations can double for many Asian countries. When Locked Up Abroad: Bangkok could not get permission to film in Thailand, it was shot here. “As in all emerging countries there are sensitivities towards certain subjects such as recent politics or the sex trade, but in general there is no requirement to have official Government minders in places on set, which is a relief compared with other South East Asian up-and-coming countries like Vietnam.”
Cedric also makes much of the experience of filming, which he says is unlike anywhere else in the world: “Shooting here is such a great human experience for each crew. I hear constant nostalgic reports from crew who have worked here. Many of them come back as soon as they can for other shooting, holidays or just on the way to somewhere else. Without exaggerating, at wrap parties there are always tears in the eyes.”
The last word in Cambodia’s favour comes from Jean-Jacqes Annaud after he shot Two Brothers for Pathe in Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Mondolkiri: “It’s an extremely engaging country with sumptuous landscapes. Everywhere you look it’s magnificent. Rice fields are splendid, palm trees unique and that countryside with mountains in the background – it forms such a harmonious whole. Architectural sites are fabulous; there is nothing you can compare it with. One main interest is the combination of mountains, flat land and the Mekong. The Kratie area for example is incredibly beautiful. It’s an exceptional location, on condition that you do it the right way.”
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
BNO Trailer and premiere
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I bumped into an old friend the other day, Hak Sovanrak, who mentioned to me that he's looking for a job. So if anyone requires a very good chef, who has great credentials and can cook anything, western or khmer, then let me know and I'll put you in touch. I used to frequent the Red Orchid bar on Street 278 when Rak and his family were running the show. That is until he and his lovely family, wife Srey Thom, daughter Srey Keo and two younger siblings, sold up and moved back to their Chbar Ampov home. His CV includes 9 years at Hotel Cambodiana so he knows his stuff. He's a genuine guy and deserves a break.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Not a pretty sight
Labels: 2011 WOVD World Cup
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Beating with a Pulse
Saturday, July 16, 2011
For the twitchers
Tomb Raider...However, much of this protected landscape is also cloaked in forest, making it a haven for birds—and heaven for twitchers that can appreciate finely carved pilasters as well as flocks of red-breasted parakeets. As a tune-up for an impending ramble into north-central Preah Vihear Province, one of the remotest wilderness areas in Southeast Asia, I accompany Sang Mony, a guide with the Sam Veasna Center, a local environmental nonprofit that conducts Cambodia birding tours, to the world-famous temples just three miles north of Siem Reap.
As dawn smudges the eastern sky, we cross a broad sandstone causeway spanning Angkor Wat’s 600-foot-wide moat. Over the metallic din of cicadas, Mony notes an Asian barred owlet’s soft, trilling hoot and a common myna’s bright, cocky whistle, a vocal talent that’s made this type of starling a pet-shop perennial. We admire the iconic temple’s central quintet of lotus-bud towers. When the crush of tour groups becomes too noisy, we head north through open forest bursting with an invisible bird chorus: cooing greater coucals, raspy red-throated flycatchers, loon-like lineated barbets.
We’re only a few hundred yards removed from one of the world’s most recognizable monuments, yet there’s not another soul around. Our solitude is rewarded every time we scan the trees: the egg-yolk-yellow plumage of a black-naped oriole; a black baza, a handsome hawk with a banded belly and rakish vertical crest; and an ashy minivet, a pedestrian-looking passerine with an impeccable pedigree—it was first scientifically described by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. After watching a pair of long-tailed macaque monkeys lope across the trail, we pass through the gopura, or gateway pavilion, of Angkor’s northern exterior wall to a placid stretch of the moat filled with wading birds, including male pheasant-tailed jacanas stalking across lily pads upon incredibly elongated toes while flaunting the special tail-feather extensions that are its breeding attire.
In the afternoon we admire the 800-year-old face towers and bas-relief sculptures of the Bayon and then tackle evocative Ta Prohm, another late-12th century temple, which is noted for its symmetrical layout, its fine stonework, and especially for the immense silk-cotton trees’ tentacle-like roots strangling nearly every structure. We thread our way through dim temple passageways and still courtyards, pausing to admire the detailed apsara dancer sculptures adorning the temple walls, to a towering jackfruit tree near Ta Prohm’s southern edge. Above us the branches are festooned with chattering red-breasted parakeets—highly social, foot-long birds known as “moustache parakeets” for their signature facial markings. Though common, their sheer, squawking multitude is breathtaking. It’s a memorable coda to a unique temple tour.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Eye on Cambodia & Laos
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Labels: Bruno Bruguier
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Ready for take off
Labels: Cambodian Space Project
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
When we were in Phnom Penh, we were fortunate to meet with Andy Brouwer who gave us the contact number for Sak, a Battambang expert. As soon as we arrived in Battambang we contacted Sak, who promptly met us at the hotel. We didn’t know it at the time, but Sak would turn out to be an incredible resource of information and contacts. And would also become a dear friend to us all. Not only did he arrange much of our day-to-day logistics, put us in contact with people who would prove to be invaluable to the project and share his wealth of information on the Battambang region, he also opened up his heart and shared some of his experiences during the Khmer Rouge. He is a couple of years older than Hom. Sak witnessed and experienced atrocities that are nothing short of harrowing. He is presently writing a book about his life during that time (in English). Sak is an avid reader and excellent communicator.
It’s difficult to put into words the profound effect Sak had on all four of us. His quick wit, generosity and passion for the local environment both urban and rural were infectious. Sak is bursting with knowledge and a deep desire to educate others about Battambang, a city often neglected by tourists. I had previously travelled to Battambang 3 years ago and to be honest I didn’t think much of it. But within hours of seeing it through Sak’s eyes I had grown to love the place. Sak, we simply cannot thank you enough. Your efforts have enriched our film more than we could ever have imagined. We look forward to seeing you again soon. [Sak is pictured with Producer Gaye Miller].
More on In Search of Camp 32 at their website.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Art collector Douglas Latchford is at it again. He's just handed over another priceless jewel to the National Museum in Phnom Penh, this time an intricately cast bronze boat prow ornament from the 11th century and the only one of its kind to be in the museum's collection. Latchford, who is arguably one of the world's leading art collectors of Khmer artefacts, has now donated five important art pieces to the museum, as well as raising funds to install a modern lighting system in the galleries last year. “I have a passion for Asian art, especially for ancient Khmer sculpture and jewellery,” said the Bangkok-based collector. A museum official confirmed that within the past 10 years, the National Museum had received 306 objects donated by foreign collectors, while 1,600 items had been given by Cambodian residents. Latchford also used the occasion to launch his latest book, Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past, his third volume written with co-author Emma C Bunker. The other two are the 2004 Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art and in 2008, Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods, which together with the new book form the most comprehensive study of Khmer art history ever published. Khmer Bronzes is over 600 pages long with some 460 photographs inside.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
In a rut
Friday, July 8, 2011
Adding to the pile
I met the owner of Kanell restaurant this morning. She was in town, trawling the travel agents to promote her eatery which opened quite a few months ago in Siem Reap. It looks great in the pictures, has a swimming pool on tap, rooms for lots of diners and a choice of good quality Asian or Western food. Located on the same road as Alliance Cafe and just around the corner from another new restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak, which is much smaller and more intimate.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro basically gave a masterclass in the rudiments of classical Cambodian dance tonight at the Sa Sa Bassac gallery, as she teamed up with Belle and artist Ouk Sochivy to discuss the evolution of traditions in art. Once she began you couldn't stop her and she regaled the audience with the basics of the artform that she teaches so successfully with her Khmer Arts Ensemble. Some of her troupe were in the good-sized audience, who also got involved by imitating some of the hand gestures. Sophiline explained in an easy-to-understand fashion, the basis for the storylines in classical dance and showed how she is pushing the boundaries to interpret the age-old art into her own ground-breaking style. Belle took less time to explain why she has chosen the path of contemporary dance to express herself and her feelings but was equally passionate for her cause. And rightly so, as she's undoubtedly the best contemporary performer in the country. Ouk Sochivy's exhibition of her paintings hung around the walls of the gallery as the session took place and it was abundantly clear that she has followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, legendary painter Svay Ken, with her distinctive style of painting. However she is forging her own path by showcasing the youth of today in her art, and her In The Club exhibits were typical of her recent work. The evening was hosted by Erin Gleeson and I must say that it was an interesting couple of hours in the company of artists who know their stuff.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Labels: Cafe Fresco
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Mum's the word
Monday, July 4, 2011
Meta's month ahead
Labels: Meta House
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Popular doesn't mean good
There's what promises to be an interesting panel discussion next Friday evening, 8 July, from 6.30pm until 8pm at the Sa Sa Bassac studio on Sothearos Boulevard. The discussion is on evolving traditions is painting and dance and will include the likes of the talented Belle, fresh from her recent travels to USA to perform Khmeropedies, as well as Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, the founder of the Khmer Arts Ensemble and a leading innovator in classical dance, together with artist Ouk Sochivy, who has a solo exhibition at Sa Sa Bassac right now.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Open for business