by Tom Nguyen
I just attended the private filmmaker reception last night at Thunder Studios, an intimate pre-kickoff to the 2nd Annual Cambodia Town Film Festival, running this weekend at the Art Theatre Long Beach. In just its second year, the ambitious film festival returns with an eclectic lineup of films, celebrating Khmer cinema both here and abroad.
The reception was an opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers and the festival founders Caylee So and PraCh Ly took time to thank their team and sponsors, without whose support the film festival would not be possible. Many supporters, like singer Bochan, had flown from faraway to attend this weekend’s festival, featuring cinema you’re not likely to see anywhere else!
Tonight Friday, you can attend the official kickoff party at Sophy’s Restaurant, well known for its Cambodian cuisine. The organizers have transformed the interior of the restaurant into a jungle and members of Intradevi and others will be performing and spinning great music. Rumany and her electro-Khmer band, with their elaborate costuming and over-the-top stage presence, stole the show at the recent inaugural Cambodian Music Festival.
The screenings start Saturday. Get there early at 11am to catch the Khmer Arts Academy dancers, a troupe of girls and boys from the Long Beach community, preserving traditional Cambodian dance. They’ll perform a short dance before The Missing Picture, which was a finalist in this year’s Academy Awards.
The heist movie Gems on the Run follows at 2pm and at 5pm, actor and director Matt Dillon will attend the screening of his 2002 film noir City of Ghosts. Saturday closes with the 8pm screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 40th anniversary remastered edition). That last one threw me and the OC Weekly for a loop.
Sunday is a rare opportunity to see Cambodian cinema from before the reign of the Khmer Rouge: 1971’s Kroper Lok Nen: “The Crocodile Man” at 11am. Following is a spotlight on short films at 1:30pm. One short film features Ellen Wong of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, who will be in attendance.
The experimentalist film Ruin screens at 4pm before what I consider the crown jewel of the festival, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, closes the festival at 6pm. I’ve been raving and dying to see this one since it premiered in Phnom Penh earlier this year!
An awards ceremony and after party follows and there is something here for everyone. The festival aims to instill pride and showcase Khmer film and culture to not only the Cambodian community but also increase awareness and welcome newcomers to a vibrant culture that is now flourishing after too long in the shadows of the Communist Khmer Rouge era.
The post-Khmer Rouge recovery and diaspora experience has emboldened a new generation of filmmakers to tell the stories and document the past, present and future of the Khmer culture. One of the pleasures of attending a film festival like is meeting aspiring filmmakers yearning to tell these stories and getting a sneak peek at what is to come. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Kathryn Lejeune and Janna Watkins, whose documentary Year 33 is in post-production and hopefully will be screened next year! So come on down to the Cambodia Town Film Festival this weekend and celebrate Khmer history and culture through cinema!