I wanted to let everybody know about a wonderful documentary, Golden Slumbers, about Cambodian movies of the 1960s and 70s that’s currently playing in the San Francisco International Film Festival. There’s still time to catch showings in Berkeley and San Francisco at the SFIFF.
The film beautifully blends interviews of surviving filmmakers, actors and fans, who describe the movies they loved so much before the Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1979. Between 1960 and 1978, Cambodian filmmakers made 400 films, which were wildly popular. Fans remember venturing out to some of 30 theaters in Phnom Penh despite bombs, grenade attacks, and the unrest during the 1970-74 civil war. As one producer recalls pointing out to his financial backers in Hong Kong: When times are rough, people need to be entertained.
Director Davy Chou is the grandson of one of Cambodia’s most successful film producersp, Van Chann. Chou was present at the screening in San Francisco and participated in an ethusiastic Q&A after the late screening at the SF Film Society Cinema on Saturday night.
Chou was utterly charming. He revealed that he had to “fake” the visually stunning ending that showed footage of a classic movie projected onto the brick wall of a former movie house that now serves as home to 100-some impoverished people. In fact he said it’s impossible to project the film onto dark brick and so the shot was digitally rendered. But the metaphor was real and sincere: showing the beauty of Cambodian film as a haunting presence juxtaposed with the present lives of young Cambodians, who remain transfixed by the new movies and music videos they watch on TV.
Chou’s parents were also in attendance. (In fact, I discovered I was sitting right next to them!)
Chou mixes interviews, stunning shots of contemporary Cambodia, vintage posters and photographs, and snippets of 1960s and 70s -era soundtracks in this artistic exploration of Cambodia’s “golden age of cinema.”
I highly recommend this visually arresting film to all cinemaphiles.
(And yes, I got an autograph from the very talented French Cambodian director!)