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Busan: ‘Diamond’ Team Enters Cambodia’s ‘White Building’

BUSAN — The core team behind 2016 Cannes Critics’ Week selection “Diamond Island” were at the Busan Film Festival’s Asian Project Market this week with Khmer-language film “White Building.”

“Diamond Island” was Paris based documentarian Davy Chou’s fiction feature debut and won the SACD Prize at Cannes.

“Diamond Island” co-producer Kavich Neang will make his feature debut with “White Building.” Neang is a product of Busan’s Asian Film Academy. His first narrative short “Three Wheels” premiered at Busan last year and won the Youth Jury Award at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Chou and “Diamond Island” co-producer Steve Chen will produce “White Building” alongside Marine Arrighi de Casanova of France’s Apsara Films (“Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey”.)

Endorsement for the project was swift. It won two prizes in Busan, the CJ Entertainment Award (worth $10,000 and a first look option with Korean major CJ) and the EUR 6,000 ARTE International Prize sponsored by European arts broadcaster ARTE France.

The White Building is a real life iconic edifice in Phnom Penh that was home to a community of artists in the 1960s and 1970s. It has since fallen into disrepair, housing prostitutes and drug abusers, and there are calls to demolish it. “White Building” is a coming of age story following three friends set here and will be shot in the real building.

“I was born in the White Building,” Neang said. “The building is very important and has a long history. I wanted to document this.”

The film is budgeted at $500,000 of which $60,000 has already been raised via private equity. “I presented “Diamond Island” two years ago here at the Asian Project Market and we won the ARTE award,” says Chou. “That was the birth certificate of the film. It’s the same here. We’re here to introduce the film and go through the funding step by step.”

The team will apply for European funds while simultaneously looking for Asian partners, with particular emphasis on Thailand, as independent cinema has developed there over the last 20 years.

Chou, Chen and Neang are the founders of Phnom Penh based Cambodian production company Anti-Archive, set up in 2014. “Diamond Island” was lead produced by Charlotte Vincent and France’s Aurora Films, with Anti-Archive co-producer.

“We found that there was a need for contemporary cinema, a cinema that doesn’t deal with the past as a historical concept, in terms of memory, in terms of the past as a fluid concept that’s interwoven with the present and the future. We thought rather than keeping the past in a box, we’d keep it open and use the present as a dynamic. Kavich is one of the new voices of Cambodian cinema.”

Cambodian cinema has revived after small spate of multiplex building in recent year. Now there is screen space for local content alongside the imported Hollywood and Thai blockbusters. And a generation of filmgoers who had never had the experience of watching a film in a cinema, due to the genocide and its aftermath, are now discovering the theatrical cinema experience.

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