Interview, 20th february 2012, Berlin International Filmfestival
Tea Lim Koun,
Ly Yu Sreang,
Kim Tea (daughter of Tea Lim Koun, she was the translator for the Cambodian „Golden Age“ film delegation)
Ly Bun Yim.
Bild links: Dy Saveth, rechts: Tea Lim Koun und Enkel (Copyright@Jennifer Borrmann)
Davy Chou made an impressing documentary on the less known Cambodian cinema of the „Golden Age“. This very productive era, which lasted from 1960 to 1975, and many of their protagonists were destroyed and murdered by the Pol Pot regime and his Khmer Rouge. Only 40 out of about 400 films survived. GOLDEN SLUMBERS (was shown at the International Forum at the Berlin International Filmfestival 2012) tells their story in an archival journey with pictures, memories of survivors of the Cambodian film industry of that time and with film songs from those lost cinematic works. With all of those parts the film stories are told again today.
What made the documentary really special was that Chou brought with him the big stars of that time, who survived the Pol Pot regime: the directors Tea Lim Koun, Ly Yu Sreang, Ly Bun Yim and the actress Dy Saveth and three of their films (Peov Chouk Sor, Puos Keng Kang – The Snake Man, Puthisen Neang Kongrey – 12 Sisters), which were shown for the first time after 40 years – the 16mm-copies digitized. The evening was dedicated by the Cambodian filmmakers to all their friends and colleagues who didn’t survive. The films are a cinematic treasure and one can only hope that they won’t be buried and forgotten in some archive.
Bild: Ly Yu Sreang und Ly Bun Yim (Copyright@Jennifer Borrmann)
Tea Lim Koun was a producer and director made 8 films until 1975, when he flew with his family to Canada, where he still lives. He is the director of classical Peov Chouk Sor and Puos Keng Kang – The Snake Man.
Ly Bun Yim was one of the leading filmmakers during the „Golden Age“. He was married to one of the biggest stars of that time, Virak Dara. They flew to Vietnam and then to France in 1977. The couple separated in 1986. After living in California In 1994 he moved back to Phnom Penh. Only one copy of Puthisan Neang Kongrey survived.
Ly Yo Sreang is probably the most tragic filmmaker of that group, as non of his films survived. Afraid, that no one would believe that he was a famous filmmaker of the „Golden Age“ era, he told his story to no one – until Davy Chou approached him.
Dy Saveth is one of the most famous actresses of the „Golden Age“ era and still plays in films and in the theater. She also had to flee from the Khmer Rouge and lived with her then husband Huoy Keng in France and Hong Kong. They separated and she moved back to Cambodia in 1993.
Bild: Ly Bun Yim und Davy Chou (Copyright@Jennifer Borrmann)
How does your father feel like today – being at an international film festival today, after so many years seeing his films digitized and shown to an international public audience?
I think, I have to pinch him…
Tea Lim Koun:
I’m feeling very good today. I’m so happy to come here and meet all the Camboadian people, that I haven’t met over 40 or 30 years. And most of all, I am so happy to share lunch with you.
Has it been able for all of you to stay in contact with each other during the past 30-40 years or was it Davy who brought you all together again?
Tea Lim Koun:
I have been in contact with Li Bun Yim and Dy Saveth, but not too often, because everybody is busy.
As I am very interested in film history: What are your own film idols, that maybe influenced or inspired you?
Tea Lim Koun:
I love all kind of movies, Chinese movies for example. Most of all I value dramas.
I was wondering, how they felt, when Davy approached you. Davy’s aunt just told me, that the time during the Pol Pot regime was like a wound that she wanted to keep closed and didn’t want to talk about it. Were they afraid to talk about that time again? How was their memory?
Ly Yo Sreang:
The worst pain that I am feeling now, is that I lost all my movies, because I have nothing to prove to the public, what I did and what my films were like, but also what happened to my life and my wife as shown in Davy’s film. But I am also very touched by everything and most of all, that I have a friend like Tea Lim Koun and that I was able to go to the festival in Singapore with him and show „The Snake Man“ there.
I was the one that organized the Cambodian delegation to the Singapore festival. The delegation and the Cambodian minister of culture asked everybody to vote for one film to represent Cambodia and he and other people voted for Tea Lim Koun’s „Snake Man“. Back then they wanted to see Cambodian dancing culture, so I organized a dance group, in which all actors and actresses danced.
How important were the movies back in the 60s and 70s in Cambodia? What did movies mean for people in the 60s and 70s in Cambodia? Did they have a powerful impact on them? One of the women in Davy’s documentary lived in a former movie theater and she possessed practically nothing, but she remembered every scene from the movie, it was like a oral history session.
First of all, in the 60s and 70s a lot of talented directors, including my father and others produced films that touched people and if the public found a film well done, it stayed in the public memory. In the 60s and 70s my father was able to break into other markets, the Thai market for example. Before that time, Cambodian theaters only showed foreign films – so after that first step, Cambodian filmmakers made good films and were able to bring them outside the country. My dad was the first to do so. Abroad, people could see and recognize Cambodian cinema for the first time.
Tea Lim Koun:
And another thing is, that people can take everything away from us, fortune, everything… But one thing, I want people to know: Nobody can take away memories. Like in Davy’s film, it’s so real and he is not afraid to tell the truth. He is not afraid to show the public, the international audience to see what really happened – to all of us.
Not many people in the world know what happened to the film industry and the actors and directors, to the movies itself, etc. in Cambodia after 1975. Only 40 films of 400 films are found until today.
Yes, and we are talking about 4 decades.
For example, Ly Yo Sreang produced 15 to 20 films and none of them survived. All of them are gone.
To him its only memory, but as my father said, no one can take that away from him. In Davy’s movie, Ly Yu Sreang wanted to visit a place where he shot his own film many years ago and there were two older ladies who still recalled the scenes from that movie in this place. The reason he took Davy to that location was, that he doubted that Davy would believe him, that he really shot scenes here and that he actually is a movie director. Because he had nothing to prove. It’s not like with my dad, who still has 6 films. With Davy on the location and the two ladies, it was prove for him, that he existed as a filmmaker. And they were there by chance. Many of the older protagonists in the documentary of Davy’s film volunteered to tell stories about their experience with the movies back in the 60s and 70s, we didn’t even have to interview them.
Ly Yu Sreang:
After I lost everything, I kept my secret and didn’t talk to anyone about it. Because I was so ashamed that my wife left me. And I was afraid, that nobody would believe me, until one day, Davy approached me and so I said, this is my chance to open up and tell the story.
And we are very thankful for that.
Maybe one last question for the Dy Saveth, the actress. How do you feel seeing yourself on the screen after 40 years?
After seeing myself on the screen and meeting all of you, to be among you and to see our film, I am just happy to be alive. But at the same time I am feeling bad for all the others who didn’t survive that terrible time. Those actors and actresses were like family to me, we were all really close and now I am alone, like I said in Davy’s film. Everybody is gone.
I am very happy to meet Tea Lim Koun, we haven’t seen each other in over ten years and his daughter and her son. We are like family. For all of us, it’s very important to meet each other now, to revive the shared memory, remember the filmmaking together, the laughs we had, the breaks we took, redoing make-up, all the little things, that together make a movie.
Nobody treated me better than Tea Lim Koun’s family, his wife took care of her, he himself giving her opportunities to play in his movies and Kim Tea is like a sister.
Thank all of you for the interview.
Can I interview you now?
Interview: Jennifer Borrmann