Cambodia Town Film Festival Explores Days Before, During and After the Khmer Rouge

Courtesy of praCh

Rap music, “thug life,” mental health, refugee struggles and heritage protection are among the subjects explored during the seventh-annual Cambodia Town Film Festival (CTFF), which takes over the Art Theatre in Long Beach this weekend with new studio and independent features, documentaries, foreign features, short films, animated shorts, and a rereleased classic.

Besides motion pictures, CTFF includes special events and panel discussions with directors, producers, writers and actors. These filmmakers range from the emerging to the seasoned. “One of the key purposes of Cambodia Town Film Festival is to highlight the diversity of the Cambodian experience through the art of filmmaking,” state the founders. “By specifically featuring films that deal with Cambodian social-political conflicts, traditions, challenges and characters, the festival will deepen Cambodian values and encourage new dialogue on a global scale.”

A CTFF VIP ticket that covers all events and screenings is $200. The lineup that follows indicates individual event prices.

FRIDAY
’80s Movie Theme CTFF Kick-off Party. Appetizers are served until 9 p.m. Sophy’s Signature Dishes Thai & Cambodian Cuisine, 3240 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach; cambodiatownfilmfestival.com. 7 p.m. $25-$35.

SATURDAY
In the Life of Music. Caylee So and Sok Visal’s 2018 drama explores love, war and a family’s relationship to “Champa Battambang,” a song made famous by “The King of Cambodian Music,” Sinn Sisamouth. The filmmakers and star Ellen Wong participate in a post-screening audience Q&A. In the Life of Music screens with writer/director A.M. Lukas’ short One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure, in which a lonely Czech refugee (Emily Mortimer) tries to recruit a Cambodian family for her new “hometown of dreams”: Fargo, North Dakota. Noon. $13.

Viplas/Rachana. In Chanvisal Sang’s 2018 drama, a painter (Virak Vinich) with bipolar disorder realizes the true meaning of art—once she finds herself at home in a mental-health center. 3 p.m. $9.

Graves Without a Name. Rithy Panh’s 2018 documentary explores the lasting effects of the Cambodian genocide through the experiences of a 13-year-old boy who searches for the graves of his lost family members. 5 p.m. $9.

praCh’s Dalama Chronicles. CTFF co-founder/co-director Prach Ly wrote the material for Dalama: The End’n Is Just the Beginnin’, when he was 17 and 18 and recorded that first CD in his parents’ Long Beach garage at age 19. Since he didn’t have a mixing board, he used a karaoke machine, sampled sound bites from old Khmer Rouge propaganda speeches and recited his refugee family’s Cambodian-genocide horror stories. Ly made around 1,000 CDs that he passed around to friends during Cambodian New Year 2000, and not only did he later learn a copy found its way to Cambodia and onto Phnom Penh radio, but also that what was retitled Khmer Rouge Rap became the No. 1 album in a country he hadn’t seen since he was a toddler. Now known as praCh, Cambodia’s first rapper performs the album live at CTFF. 8 p.m. $15.

Courtesy of praCh

SUNDAY
Bophana Center Short Documentaries. Based in Phnom Penh, the Bophana Center was co-founded in 2006 by Ieu Pannakar and Cambodian/French filmmaker Rithy Panh to restore, protect and enhance Cambodia’s audiovisual heritage. The shorts screening are: Vunneng Leng’s Cyclo, Cambodian Heritage; Poav Sev’s Ice-Cream; Pring Proel and Veth Muong’s Mother’s Heart; Sithort Ret’s Noodle Seller; Roda Din’s I Hope One Day; Saroeun Blong’s Life Under the Sunshine; Rany Phok’s Soul Alive, Body Dead; Minea Heng’s The Lake of Life; Chhouk Loeurn’s I Am Still Alive; and Lean Mang’s Home of the Dead. 11 a.m. Free.

Shorts Corner With Filmmakers’ Q&A. Featured filmmakers and shorts are: Sibxy na Panh with Flavor of Amok, which is about a courted maiden losing her purity in the ancient kingdom of Angkor; Joseph Mills and Sopheak Sun with High Point Summer, in which Sopheak’s video diary explaining “thug life” in Cambodia is overtaken by unexpected tragedy; Alex Biniaz-Harris and Ambrose Soehn with Garuda’s Song, which displays their four-handed piano piece based on Cambodian music before, during and after the Khmer Rouge; Youthana Yuos with Buffalo Nickel, in which a lonely Indian American befriends a social-media influencer who may have ulterior motives; Magali An Berthon with Dancing In Silk, in which students reconnect with their Cambodian identity through movement, costumes and community. 1 p.m. $10.

Last Night I Saw You Smiling. Kavich Neang’s new documentary follows three families as their iconic Phnom Penh home, the White Building, faces demolition. It screens with Danech San’s short drama A Million Years, which has a young woman relaxing at a riverfront restaurant and recounting her past. 4 p.m. $9.

Puthisen Neang Kongrey (12 Sisters). It’s a remastered, high-definition version of Ly Bun Yim’s 1968 Cambodian classic that is based on the ancient Khmer myth. A king with 12 orphaned sisters as wives takes as No. 13 a beautiful princess. But she’s actually a giant witch who convinces the king that the other dozen wives are witches. Legendary actress Virak Dara attends the screening and takes questions from the audience afterward. 6 p.m. $10.

Closing Ceremony and Funan. Denis Do’s 2018 French animated feature is about a young mother seeking to find her 4-year-old son, who was torn from his family by the Khmer Rouge. 8 p.m. $13.

Cambodia Town Film Festival at the Art Theatre, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; cambodiatownfilmfestival.com. Fri.-Sun. See website for complete list of films, show times and ticket prices.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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