Over the past six years, the Cambodia Town Film Festival has established itself as a celebration of Khmer culture by sharing a wide scope of films either made in Cambodia, focused on Cambodian issues or made by Cambodian filmmakers. Set in Long Beach, the hub for the Cambodian community, this year’s cinematic span offers indie, documentary, short, student-made and narrative flicks from around the world that are informative, intriguing and just plain entertaining. Here’s my list of what wonderful programming to see at the Art Theatre from Thursday, Sept. 13 until the fest closes on Sunday.
LETTERS FROM HOME
This isn’t officially a film, but a theatrical production by Kalean Ung, who will perform Letters From Home live. Written by the half-Cambodian, half-Sicilian Ung and directed by Marina McClure, it explores Ung’s connection to her family’s past and their escape from the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, as well as navigating the world as a biracial woman.
Powerful and impactful, Neary Adeline Hay’s documentary Angkar follows her father, Khonsaly, as they travel together to his old Cambodian village, where he recounts his memories and encounters his old Khmer Rouge persecutors. As heavy and dark as the subject matter seems, Hay’s fly-on-the-wall camerawork focuses on her father from a respectful distance, ultimately presenting him as a survivor of a horrific past. Khonsaly’s stories, as well as those told by fellow prisoners from the same detention center, give first-person accounts that fill in important details of the rural population’s experience during the regime of the Khmer Rouge.
Amit Dubey’s thriller explores the conflicts between traditional superstition and scientific medicine. A psychologist tries to treat rural, mentally ill patients, but he must first confront a spiritual healer who uses brutal, unconventional methods and locks people up in cages. This is apparently the first psychological thriller from Cambodia, partly inspired by the real-life plight of the nation’s mentally ill citizens, and features excellent performances and chilling cinematography by Jimmy Henderson.
THE JOY LUCK CLUB
Now, I know what you’re thinking: A movie about Chinese people in a Cambodian film festival? Considering the film is one of the few American films to feature a predominantly Asian cast and includes themes relatable to other Asian cultures (and beyond), it’s a solid choice to include this free screening in honor of the film’s 25th anniversary. Based on Amy Tan’s novel, the stories of four aging women who play mahjong together are interwoven as vignettes, as are the stories of their American-born daughters.
Making its U.S. premiere at the Cambodia Town Film Festival, this spooky film will probably unsettle you enough to make you sleep with the lights on. Horror movies based on folk tales and fairy tales are some of the best, and this one hinges on an old Khmer story about a witch who can make people sick or kill them. Set in the Longvek period, a young tycoon named Raj suspects black magic is drying up his family well, making his workers disappear and injuring him before eventually disappearing altogether. It’s like The Exorcist mixed with The VVitch and Poltergeist. Despite the CGI graphics looking a little hokey, The Witch still makes for an effectively creepy movie.
SHORT FILM SECTION
The fest opens with a block of shorts ranging from a neon-tinged music video for synth-wave group Indradevi’s “Idols” to a health campaign video titled “Wash It” to the mysterious The Morning After, about a young Australian backpacker who awakens in a Cambodian rice field with no recollection of how he got there, but who must search for his missing girlfriend.
Cambodia Town Film Festival at the Art Theatre, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; cambodiatownfilmfestival.com. Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 13-16. See website for screening times and ticket prices.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.