MEMORY! in Phnom Penh

International Film Heritage Festival
 Mick Newnham
Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre in Phnom Penh.

MEMORY! is a film festival held in Phnom Penh focused on archival film and designed to bring the cinema experience to a new generation. I missed the official opening of the MEMORY! International Film Heritage Festival, to give it its full title, because of flight schedules, which was a great pity as by all accounts it was spectacular event with King Norodom in attendance.

The first workshop session was entitled ‘Film heritage: Risks and Stakes’.

The discussion started on risks to film but quickly moved to issues of access and the value of film to society as a whole. After the session I spoke with the acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh about the ideas he had for a travelling preservation service and the similarities with a project the NFSA has been exploring with the University of Melbourne.

One of the major issues with the mobile lab is how the films could be preserved after the lab had moved on to the next location. One idea tossed around was a cultural levy included as part of the visa costs for tourists. Would we as tourists be happy to pay an extra dollar or two on the visa cost if it supported cultural preservation?

While the workshops are important, a film festival is all about the films. I dropped into one of the many screenings taking place this week at the Chaktomuk Theatre, one of the few places that can still project film as film in Cambodia. The tail end of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) was screening when I arrived and despite being black-and-white and silent, the audience of primarily Cambodian children were howling with laughter and obviously enjoying themselves. A good film is a film to be enjoyed, regardless of the age of the film or the audience.

The film I was waiting to see was the restored version of Lewat djam malam (After the curfew), an Indonesian film from 1954. The film was restored as a joint project between Friends of Sinematek (Indonesia), National Museum of Singapore and the World Cinema Foundation. The restoration was conducted by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna (Italy). The restoration was fortunate in having original negatives to work with and the resultant print (I saw a projected 35mm copy, rare these days) was beautiful on the screen as well as having a strong story.

One of the key messages from the last two weeks at both Restoration Asia and MEMORY! has been ‘There are no old films, just films you haven’t seen yet’. Given the strength of films such as Lewat djam malam I agree with this message.

Visit the official website for the MEMORY! International Film Heritage Festival.