The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Lim Seang Heng
Monday, 27 April 2009
Director Phoan Phoung Bopha hopes her surprise hit film will help eliminate discrimination against the Kingdom's mostly hidden gay community
CAMBODIA'S first-film featuring a lesbian love story has become an instant box office hit. The two-hour film Who Am I?, about a love affair between a Cambodian-American woman and a Khmer actress, attracted more than 4,000 viewers during its first week in theatres.
Phoan Phoung Bopha, who produced and directed the film, hopes that the movie will help raise awareness of discrimination against lesbians.
Born in 1955, Phoan Phoung Bopha became a novelist at the age of 17 and worked as a reporter for the Pro Chea Chun newspaper for three years.
She also worked at the Rasmey Kampuchea newspaper from 1993 to 1998 and as a co-director of the Women's Media Centre from 1997 to 2003.
She has been producing films for Rock Production on CTN since 2004.
Where did you get the idea for Who Am I? Who was your target audience?
The idea of making this film had been in my mind since 2004, when I first worked for the Cambodian Television Network.
Most of the people working in the cosmetics business are gay, although they will not tell you this straight away.
I was working with these people every day, and they told me their stories.
Love between people of the same sex is a very new topic in Cambodia - it is a topic that has not been openly discussed before.
Things were not always easy. I had to do a lot of research on whether people would watch this film or not. Through my research I discovered that many people wanted to know more about how lesbians live and love each other, especially when it comes to sexual matters.
What has been the reaction to the film?
I have heard some criticism from wives of high-ranking officials who have said that this film will provoke emotions among lesbians and only appeal to that small specific group.
My objective behind the film is to help reduce discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
I would like the people who have criticised my film to at least go and watch it before they judge it.
Lesbians and gay men are born homosexual, and watching Who am I? for two hours will not change people's personalities or sexual orientation.
I have had no negative feedback from people who have seen the film.
Is there a message behind the film?
My objective behind the film is to help reduce discrimination against lesbians and gay men, as I think it is hard for them to live in Cambodian society.
These people are often not given fair opportunities at the workplace, and they are often looked down on by people who do not take the opportunity to get to know them.
I hope that my audience gains some understanding through watching my film and contribute to reducing prejudice towards this group of people.
How did you finance the film?
I spent around US$20,000 of my own money to make this film.
I spent six months writing the script and three months filming.
The movie was filmed in some tourist sites in Cambodia, which I think will be of interest to foreigners who would like to visit this country. (The film is now available with English subtitles.)
How does Who Am I? compare to your other films?
The topic of lesbian relationships has never been explored in a Cambodian film before.
Both local and foreign media have been very interested in this film.
I think that this film will increase my popularity as a filmmaker more so than my other 19 films.
Initially, I was concerned that I would not get the licence to make this film from the Ministry of Fine Arts. I was afraid that they would think this film went against Cambodian culture.
Also, at times it was difficult to get the actresses to act like real lovers.
Do you think Cambodian families, especially parents, will change their way of thinking after watching the film?
I don't think they will change their perception of homosexuality and let their daughters or sons love and marry a same-sex person.
Cambodian people usually think same-sex love is immoral and discredits the family's reputation.
Even though my film doesn't cover everything about same-sex love, it at least shows a small part of the truth and that love between people of the same sex exists.
How many people have seen your film and will it be screened on TV?
Approximately 500 to 1,000 tickets have been sold each day at two theatres where the film is currently being screened.
I am not yet sure if the film will be screened on TV, but if it is, I am expecting that it will not be until some time in 2010.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I am currently involved in the Rock Production, which is being screened on CTN.
I haven't been thinking about making a new film yet because film production costs a fortune.
The film industry in Cambodia is in decline, as there is not enough of a market for films here.
Television is a strong competitor to Cambodian filmmakers as TV station purchase cheap foreign films and screen pirated films.
This film could be my last film, as I am getting older. It's impossible to produce films if you don't have money.
I am now thinking of returning to my career as a novelist.