If the storylines of today’s Cambodian films seem tired and rehashed, it’s because they are, some local screenwriters say.
Despite abundant fodder for compelling cinema, these writers contend that they are being hamstrung by a paranoid government that fears realistic depictions of Cambodian life. Consequently, the same old love stories keep finding their way back into theaters.
One writer, who asked not to be named, said last week, “If I write the factual story about society, my story will not be allowed to be shown. I will lose a lot of funding and waste my time writing this story.
“It does not mean that [Cambodian] writers have no ability or experiences. They research many stories…because Cambodia has had chronic civil war for years and today many things are happening in Cambodia.”
The writer went on to complain about the prevalence of romantic dramas on Cambodian screens: “People are tired of seeing the same story and the same style, nothing new and strange.”
An Pagna, an independent writer, said he has penned plots telling of life under the Vietnamese in the 1980s and the turbulence of the 1997 factional fighting, but he fears the government’s response to them. The Ministry of Culture’s Cinema Department “thinks [such stories] criticize the government and leaders, but they are the true and real [stories], not the fake ones,” An Pagna said.
“I have more story ideas about Cambodian society,” he said. “Corruption and nepotism are the best stories and make viewers interested and eager to see them…. But I believe the current government absolutely does not allow such stories in the cinema.”
But others in the industry apparently do not feel compromised.
“I have no intention of writing about corruption and government leaders. I just write the story about education and love, and I can make $500 a month for one story,” said Mao Samnang, a screenwriter whose films are shown regularly around Phnom Penh.
Som Sokun, Cinema Department director at the Ministry of Culture, denied that screenwriters suffer from any air of oppression. “In my office we never receive scripts and reject them,” he said.
“From Cambodian writers, I never see such stories [dealing with contemporary Cambodia]. If it involves politics, we want to see what it is,” he said.
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