Clear your schedules, film freaks, for there's a film festival in town whose programming is likely never going to be seen at any other festival around.
Now in its second year, Long Beach's Cambodia Town Film Festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the Long Beach Art Theatre and will feature a variety of films made by and for Cambodian audiences, meant to spotlight the talent in Cambodian filmmaking both stateside and abroad. Its official kick-off night is Friday's mixer at Sophy's Restaurant in Long Beach, but the features will begin Saturday morning, right after a Khmer Arts Academy opening dance, and run until Sunday night's CTFF awards ceremony.
What's there to expect? A short film showcase, a documentary on Cambodia's lost rock-and-roll era, a director Q&A with Matt Dillon (yes THAT Matt Dillon), a '70s Khmer film and a screening of the 1970s horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not to mention, of course, several critically acclaimed Cambodian features.
The first film to grace the Long Beach Art Theatre screen is 2013's The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh's documentary on the 1975-79 massacre of over 200,000 people under the regime of the Khmer Rouge, told through the use of archival footage, voice over narration and clay figures. Panh searches for a single image encapsulating the injustice of the event, yet acknowledges in his own voice over the implausibility of his quest; instead, the film serves as a "picture" of the search itself.
The film is the first Cambodian film to win the Grand Prix award at the 2013 Cannes film festival as well as numerous other awards for Panh; Panh will be present for a discussion after the film.
Gems on the Run is a heist comedy surrounding three best friends who vow as children to one day open a restaurant at the beach together. Fifteen years later, Dara has been killed; the two remaining best friends Rith, who is now a police officer, and Sovan, who is now a gangster, are reunited and traveling through Southern Cambodian with (unbeknownst to Rith) $3 million worth of diamonds in tow. This film is marked by its director Sok Visal's ambitions to build Cambodia's cinema for its native audience, which explains why there aren't any trailers for the film with English subtitles.
Hollywood heartthrob Matt Dillon presents his 2002 film City of Ghosts, which he stars in as a con man following his backstabbing mentor and partner Marvin (James Caan) as he runs from New York to Thailand to Cambodia. Dillon's character Jimmy runs into some seedy characters (one of them Gerard Depardieu) before eventually finding out Marvin's elaborate scam involving corrupt Cambodian officials and Russian gangsters. The film was shot in Cambodia and features locals with no prior acting experience with speaking roles. Dillon and cinematographer Jim Denault will be on hand to discuss the film after the screening.
CTFF's classic film pick this year is the pre-Communist era horror film called Kroper Lok Nen, or The Crocodile Man. Lets see if we can break down this fantastical plot: the film concerns two young men, one of which can turn into a crocodile at will and marries two beautiful crocodile women. The crocodile man, named Charavann, returns to land to seek revenge on Kraitoung, who he suspects murdered a woman. Charavann picks up the beautiful millionaire's daughter named Sampov Meas and brings her to his underwater home, where his two jealous wives put a spell on her. Kraitoung must rescue Sampov Meas to free her from the clutches of Charavann and his treacherous brood. There's no way this film will ever be shown in the states again, and its hard to find with English subtitles online, so make a note to see this obscure flick Sunday morning at 11am.
Another great documentary focuses on the lost era of Cambodian rock and roll from the 1960s and 1970s. Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll recounts the history of the Cambodian city Phnom Penh as a cultural hub for youths to enjoy new music before the strains of war barred music from reaching the masses. A great doc with an impressive soundtrack, this should definitely stand out to rock and roll historians and enthusiasts alike. Check out the trailer below:
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And then there's Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was confused to see this on the festival's programming schedule without so much as an explanation or reasoning to its relevance (the Mexican-in-Chief thought maybe it was a metaphor on the brutality of the Vietnam War in Cambodia; the Mexican-in-Chief thought WRONG), and searched for an answer why: turns out there is no relevance, it's simply there to commemorate its 40th anniversary with a remastered edition screening, and to open the festival to a wider audience.
Now in its second year, Cambodia Town Film Fest is gearing up to be one of those long-awaited events in its community with its high-profile guests and solid programming. Find the full schedule of films being screened at their website and reserve your tickets as well. See you there!