by Tom Nguyen
When I lived in Long Beach, the Cambodia Town community was home to me. As fellow refugees & exiles from illegal US war & Communism, we’d suffered so much trauma…the Khmer worse than us Viets as they suffered genocide. Almost all their culture bearers were singled out for execution. Despite genocide, exile, racism, poverty, deportation & other obstacles, the largest Cambodian diaspora community outside Cambodia endures & thrives, still unseen and under-acknowledged in our immigrant LA tapestry.
This is why I always attend the annual Cambodia Town Film Festival (CTFF), which runs this Friday, September 15th through Sunday, September 17th, at the Art Theatre Long Beach. The festival is such a rare opportunity to see Khmer film and it’s a celebration of a people and community who exemplify the enduring human spirit against all odds. This 5th annual festival features a lot of special screenings, like the opening film “First They Killed My Father”, directed by Angelina Jolie, to the first ever all Cambodian-American stand-up comedy show, Khmers of Comedy.
The festival kicks off Friday night with a party at Sophy’s Restaurant and then the opening ceremony starts on Saturday morning at 11am, followed by “First They Killed My Father”, which is based on the book of the same name, written by author Loung Un about her experience as a child during the Khmer Rouge regime. She will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening.
CTFF has a strong history of selecting films delving into forgotten and traumatic Cambodian history, like this opening film and others in previous years like Oscar-nominated “The Missing Picture” (2013) and “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll” (2014). Saturday’s program also features a documentary “Surviving Bokator” about Genocide survivor San Kim Sean’s struggle to revive an ancient Cambodian martial art after it was nearly eradicated by the Khmer Rouge genocide.
I’m especially excited to see films this year exploring contemporary issues and life in Cambodia today, like “Diamond Island”, a drama which follows the lives of urban youth in an upscale luxury development, and “Turn Left Turn Right”, about a young, free-spirited Cambodian woman in her 20s, both films set in modern-day Phnom Penh. Another film I want to see is Sunday’s opening film “A Cambodia Spring”, a documentary about the land grabbing and forced evictions of the poor to make way for development and the monk who is documenting their struggle.
Sunday’s program also features the morality tale “The Forest Whispers”, a documentary “Until They’re Gone” about the continuing efforts to remove landmines, and closing film “Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia” –– all proceeds from the closing night film will support Khmer Arts Academy, a school in Long Beach teaching and preserving Cambodian classical dance among the youth.
Cambodia Town Film Festival schedule, trailers, and tickets ranging from $8-$14: