Sorry but this entry will be without pictures.
I officially arrived in Cambodia one week ago. I decided to carry on all my equipment this time so I was greeted with an excruciating security check in at Chicago’s O’hare airport. They decided they had to scan every single piece of equipment I had on its own…meaning taking it out of the bag…in its own cup/tray through the X-ray machine….45 minutes later and lines filled with unhappy passengers, I was allowed to pass through.
Spent friday through sunday taking care of the usual arrival details (cell phone, meetings with translaters…) On to Phnom Penh monday morning to set up shop in Phnom Penh.
Tuesday morning, I met with Tom (our primary translator) and received another batch of translations (we’re now at about 60% of material translated). As each new page arrives, I am reminded of how many unique and detailed stories we were able to capture earlier this year. Tuesday afternoon, I worked with Kaseka (primary translator for the film “Bombhunters”) who provided some translated material and a timeline to finish the remaining material.
Wednesday began a three day (and on going) struggle to locate the infamous 35mm films shot by the Khmer Rouge themselves. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible but some back story is necessary here:
1) Khmer Rouge filmed over 1,000 hours of raw footage and short films with a 35mm camera.
2) The footage was located and collected by the Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Pranh who subsequently used some for his film “S-21: The Killing Machine” then broke bonds with DC-CAM and took the footage back to France to be “preserved.”
3) After years of negotiations and complaints, the footage was returned to Cambodia sometime last year.
4) In February of 2007, I wrote a combined letter with Youk Chhang asking the Ministry of Culture for permission to “view” such footage.
5) In March of 2007, we received a response saying the footage would not be available for such purpose. We immediately formulated a response requesting grounds for the denial.
6) In May of 2007, we received a second response from the Ministry of Culture approving our original request and inviting us to view the footage stored at the “Ministry of Culture.”
7) Two days ago I went to the “Office of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion” where the footage was supposed to be held with a representative of DC-CAM. We were told to visit the “Pranh Center” and view the films there. However, this center only houses french uses of the footage (newsreels, french documentaries…) and NOT the original footage. I asked to speak to the director of the center and was later told via a phone call that the footage did indeed exist and was held at the “Office of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion” in a storage room with no means of viewing the material.
Today Rich and I went with a native Cambodian speaker back to the Cultural Diffusion office. The office is on the third floor of a dark and sparsely decorated apartment building. It consists of one large room with 8 desks in a semi-circle facing the stairway. Each desk was manned with a government representative all pretending to be very busy that they could not help us. After getting nowhere with a secretary who eventually told us the footage was back at the “Pranh Center,” we asked to speak to the Director. He refused meeting us at first but after we pushed and pushed, he agreed to let us in. Despite having a letter from the Ministry of Culture granting our film the right to “view and locate the footage we wanted to copy,” we were denied access to the storage room. Although frustrated we still haven’t seen the footage with our own eyes, we were given hope as he described the footage we knew existed and a means for one person to view it at a time.
The next step will come monday when I return to the Office of Diffusion with a representative from DC-CAM, a secondary Cambodian translator, enlarged copies of the approval letters, and Youk Chhang on call if we need him to appear.
Let the above be an example of how slowly things tend to move here and a further testament to Richard Fitoussi’s dedication to rising above these delays and making Aki Ra’s land mine museum a reality.
Because isolating this footage has taken longer then planned, I will be staying in Phnom Penh another week to continue these negotiations and further translation materials. I will be returning to Siem Reap next weekend to watch as Aki Ra receives a license to exhibit UXO’s and mines he has struggled so many years for.