Mixed Feelings as Jolie Starts Filming in B’bang

BATTAMBANG CITY – Curious locals and tourists crowded around block­ades set up this week around the downtown set of Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s latest film, “First They Killed My Father,” hoping to catch a glimpse of the star as she began shooting.

Heng Leng, a market vendor who lives along Street 207, simply sat on his porch and enjoyed the view.

Antique cars are driven near the set of ‘First They KIlled My Father’ in Battambang City this week. (Geordie Hay)
Antique cars are driven near the set of ‘First They KIlled My Father’ in Battambang City this week.
(Geordie Hay)

“From my house, you can see the scenes being filmed,” Mr. Leng said.

“This province will now be in Hollywood,” he mused. “And when people pass through Battambang, they will want to see the street where this was filmed.”

Hundreds of actors, extras and crew descended on the city Monday to film the adaptation of Loung Ung’s best-selling Khmer Rouge survival memoir of the same name. Several blocks surrounding the set at Pi Thnou Primary School were on complete lockdown, with doz­ens of military police standing guard.

Despite the set being off-limits during the day, locals trickled in after dark to pose alongside props and wander the streets, transformed to resemble 1970s Phnom Penh.

A mobile phone shop had been transformed into a Chinese dental practice, a computer store was turned into a camera repair shop, and a brick building had become the Luxe Cinema, with 1960s- vintage cars lining the sidewalks.

Thouk Kong, 35, was among the hundreds of locals hired as extras for the film.

“I just came down here to register and they checked my appearance because they were looking for dark-skinned people like in the Khmer Rouge regime,” Mr. Kong said.

“I saw Angelina a few times and I felt so happy because she is so famous,” he said, producing a contract showing that he got paid $25 for a day’s work.

However, not everyone was basking in the excitement of Ms. Jolie-Pitt’s arrival.

Business owners inside the blocked-off area said the filming couldn’t have come at a worse time, forcing them to shut down just as locals were gearing up for the Lunar New Year.

“We’ve sold nothing because the street is completely blocked,” said Sok Khang, 53, who runs a convenience store here. “Chinese New Year is usually the best time of year for us.”

Ms. Khang said local authorities failed to tell residents what to expect, while military police have prevented her from complaining to visiting television reporters.

“First, they told us they would allow some people to come and use the shops inside. But in reality, they haven’t allowed anyone to come in,” she said.

“A TV crew came to interview us but military police came in and asked ‘Why are you doing this?’ and told them about a fire nearby and explained they should be covering that instead,” she said, adding that the television journalists then abandoned the interview.

Crew members push a cyclo onto the set of ‘First They Killed My Father’ in Battambang City this week. (Geordie Hay)
Crew members push a cyclo onto the set of ‘First They Killed My Father’ in Battambang City this week. (Geordie Hay)

Although she was expecting a steep drop in sales during the six days of filming, Ms. Khang said she was promised compensation from local authorities, which has not yet materialized.

“I’m really unhappy about it. I think the people from Hollywood are paying the money to the authorities but the authorities are not giving the money to us. When we go to ask about compensation, they just keep quiet,” she said.

“I want to go and meet with Angelina, but no one will come with me and I do not dare to go alone.”

Chin Touch, who owns a barber shop on one of the closed off streets, said he had mixed emotions about the experience.

“It’s good that Hollywood is coming to Battambang—it’s exciting for the local residents to see this—but we should be compensated for having to close our businesses,” he said.

Authorities gave conflicting messages regarding their plans to help locals recoup their losses.

“We have offered no compensation to people who have businesses in that block,” said provincial governor Chan Sophal.

“We announced the shooting of this film in advance and told them that we will close these streets during the shooting of the film,” he added.

“All those people are happy with the film. Nobody complained at the time about the effect it would have on their business, and nobody asked for compensation.”

However, Ouk Kim, Svay Por commune chief, said business owners would be reimbursed after filming ceased on Saturday.

“All of them, they will get compensation, but we don’t know how much we will offer to them,” he said.

Reporters were denied entry to the set, and representatives of Netflix, which is producing the film, could not be reached.

Despite the temporary anger among some of his constituents, Mr. Sophal was optimistic about the lasting legacy Ms. Jolie-Pitt’s film could have for his city.

“I heard from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts that another French filmmaker contacted the government to inquire about producing a film in Battambang,” he said.

“I think after Hollywood airs the film, people across the world will be made aware of Battambang and they will come to visit Cambodia.”

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