Golden Slumbers: Restoring Cambodian cinema

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By Clara Boesch

On April 10, French Filmmaker Davy Chou presented his documentary film Golden Slumbers in Reamer Auditorium.

Guided by a passion for film but lacking a formal cinematic education, Chou travelled to Cambodia to create a documentary inspired by his grandfather, a Cambodian film producer. Chou filmed stories from actors, filmmakers, cinephiles and his grandfather’s colleagues.

His project took a turn after he unearthed more than just family history; he discovered the volatile and violent past of the Cambodian film industry. While Cambodian film flourished in the 1960s, its “Golden Age” came to an end with the rise of the totalitarian Khmer Rouge in 1975.  The xenophobic regime implemented a systematic four-year eradication of western cultural influences, especially Cambodian cinema. Over 400 films were destroyed, not to mention the lives of 1.7 million people, including prominent actors and filmmakers.

Chou’s film is not merely a recognition of the destruction of Cambodia’s cinematic heritage, but rather a tribute to the enduring memories of Cambodia’s lost films. Chou shows audiences traces of classic films, which survive today in the songs played at karaoke clubs and on YouTube channels, in salvaged pictures and posters and, most powerfully, in the memories of cinephiles who fell in love with these films and continue to share their stories.

Though a monumental chapter of its cinematic past is gone forever, Cambodia’s filmmaking industry is steadily recovering. Chou is one of a handful of young filmmakers who are exploring the nation’s past and its social issues through documentary film. Golden Slumbers is a mark of the continuing legacy of Cambodian filmmaking, and makes an encouraging addition to the nation’s cinematic heritage.

In his fascinating and often emotional film, Chou paints our imagination with the colorful style of classic Cambodian cinema and demonstrates the optimistic power of memory in the face of loss.

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