Dream Land Feature Film by Steve Chen

How was the last sequel of the Hunger Games? Now let’s switch to another side of cinema! This fresh feature film was set in Cambodia by first-time director, Steve Chen. It was locally premiered and screened during the past Cambodia International Film Festival 2015. The festival itself was presided over by Hollywood star Anjelina Jolie, in its Honorary Committee. It also incorporated the 4th Cambodia National Film Festival, designed to award local feature films. I had then the privilege to coordinate guests for Steve, including his cast and crew in Dream Land and a few friends. As I watched it twice, I feel compelled to blog about this new art-house work.

DREAM LAND - Small Poster

Space and characters: With Steve’s architect background, space, at various stages of the movie, embeds contexts, situations, emotions of characters. For example, the urban setting was presented as repetitive to mean “stuffy or even boring”. As main character Da wants to move to another space, Kep proves relaxing and reminiscing of her past, associated with colonial ruins. Unlike mainstream movies, their dialogs are made peppy talks, yet quite relevant with the contemporary settings.

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3.5: censorship and worship…

This Singaporean-Cambodian production is probably the longest and most controversial Cambodian movie in Cambodian cinema history. The main reason is its sensitive scenes, the Cinema Department find quite disturbing to the audience. With all the media fever, I finally came to see it at Legend Cinema – TK Avenue, a while ago. My review here has eventually been twisted a little bit from previous ones! Anyway, kudos to my film colleague, Mr. Chhay Bora, for raising the bar with 3.50.

Behind censorship
Some of you may be wondering why this feature drama has been censored for two years. Well, it is said a few scenes are too obvious to be accepted: a torn Cambodian flag, a cigarette throw on the street, a sad ending walk towards the governmental Peace Palace. Should I add how virginity is “repaired” or faked by a notorious doctor? Or is there any other taboo element off the screen?

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My 2013 in review

I’d rather call 2013 a year of great transition, in which little was achieved as planned or is delayed to 2014. But it kept me moving and hopefully growing with more experience and fun. I can feel the momentum from year to year. So when you read this, bear in mind that I’m just a human like you!
Family and Love
We spent almost one year living with Granny.  Her “home” got bigger with our presence: my sisters, brother, his wife and three kids and me, with Phanit once in a while. Actually, her house was spacious enough to even accommodate three of her young relatives. Little did we realize that one of those three stole our belongings until Granny lost her jewelries. One of those belongings was my new laptop. Despite this theft, we got back up and felt relieved that he was identified and his family is willing to repay us for him. Anyway, the best part to live there was that Len got engaged at Granny’s. Her fiancé is a fruit dealer, from Prey Veng, a bit younger than she. 
                         Engagement between Len (my sister) and Sophors                              
Our house in Tuol Sangke was finally done with renovation in last November. It looks more spacious, livable and no longer rat-infested! Yet, the cats of our neighbors still use part of our house as their toilets! There are still the seven of us, regardless of our cousins’ occasional visits.
Also, I travelled more than ten thousand miles within the year back and forth between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Phanit and I have no solution to fixed settlement yet. I have big dreams that can only achieved in Phnom Penh. She wants a simpler life in Siem Reap. Our sweetest moment was at Bokor in August experiencing the nature and all-year cool mountainous weather. Then, in late last November, we managed to celebrate our first wedding anniversary in a top-notch restaurant in Siem Reap. That was probably the longest period of the year I spent with her. Besides, I felt happy that she sounds more ready to have a baby for this year. You may wonder why I stick to her. It’s because we keep challenging each other – if not fight!
                           At Sampov Pram, Bokor Hill                                
Since last September, I have ended my business partnership and am now about to register as a sole-proprietorship. Within this transitional period, I purposely reduced my brand exposure as I’m planning to rebrand it. “CallMe” is actually already an international brand. Still, my client base remains firm or has even increased, which made me hesitate to quit my translation services. Anyway, all I could do for business visibility was to intervene in PSE’s (January) and RULE’s  (June) class to share my business experience with students over there. Of course, RULE’s Master Degree students threw me more complicated questions. But no answer was easier than an honest one.  Again, for PSE, I was invited to evaluate the business plans prepared by their students in mid-June. Their ideas sounded more interesting than those from 2012 with businesses like a cricket farm and a dancing club.
                           With Sak (close right) and other judges for PSE’s students’s business plans                            
As I misunderstood the rental term of my former business partner, I had less than four weeks to find and move to another office. I ended up with a two-unit floor in Tuol Svay Prey, owned by the same lady who rented her house in Boeung Salang to my former business partner. Then, I need to wait three months for a better cash flow arranged by my wife. I finally got to borrow bits from different friends so I can process the registration from this month. What surprised me is that the whole legalizing fees goes from $750 to $950 for the sake of tax collection reform! Anyway, one of my main purposes to register this business is to upgrade its image and attract more clients, sensitive with its legal status. I’m, too, lucky to have a loyal accountant to her job(s) and me. Although asked by my former business partner to help him out, she refused to do that as she thinks he didn’t treat her right. The lesson here is, employees nowadays are not slaves or workers in the industrial age. They should be considered as colleagues or even partners to be able to move forwards together. 
My new office (from the front)
Besides, I still could hardly set up my film business, as I have not yet found a right candidate to manage my translation agency. But I could spot some talents I can work with in the future. 
Like in 2012, FilmCampKH and Chaktomuk Short Film Contest (FCKH-CSFC) were organized again, this time at PUC (South Campus), thanks to Dean of Media, Ray, Kounila’s main contact. Although the audience turnout was not as big as expected, I was quite happy that most attendees took strong interest in learning about film. In addition to generous sponsorship by Ministry of Information, Sabay, Westec, we got the support from MekongTV in live-streaming our events and OneMemory in shooting these. The great add-on for FCKH was our trip to Rabbit Island, Kep, to make short films within 24 hours and that for CSFC was the series of screening of these films and others in French Institute, Meta House, Bophana Center, Platinum Cineplex, Legend Cinema. Almost all sessions ran full house, along with concerted communication with our respective partners.

In terms of co-production, with Akasa Studios, we made two films: “Koh Ker – The Lost Wonder” (Khmer Film Foundation’s documentary teaser premiered in June) and “The Lock” (my personal first short horror-comedy premiered in July). Both short films quite appeal to our audience. Ever since, they’ve become our regular production partner.

Later, Rithea and I came up with a series of short films to be combined into a feature film on Cambodian children. Even though commercially unviable, since last October, World Vision pledged to assist us as our senior associate producer. With our existing capital, we only realized one of the five. The remaining films are to be shot from this month till March. They are expected to be premiered during our Festival this year. Which one? It’s the one expanded from our Chaktomuk Short Film Contest. As we wish to make it bolder, better and bigger, we need a great partner like Bophana Center. For the last several years, we’ve already worked together in some way or another. The Center will take charge of communication, technical aspects and film collection. Despite the slow progress, due to our respective full-time commitments, we’ve been moving forwards with regular meetings to make sure we make FCKH-CSFF happen again this year in Cambodia.
With loose activity in KFF, but similar to 4K’s, I proposed to KFF the merger of the two teams into one: 4K. This will be confirmed very soon.
2013 saw the balance of film categories I watched: fiction and documentary; commercial and artistic/festival. I enjoyed the free premieres from Legend Cinema only till last July as they changed their promotion policies! Come what may, nothing could stop me from pursuing my viewing hobby, even I had to pay for next movies. Bophana Center also invited remarkable hosts like Rithy Panh, Richard Kuipers, Chhorn Bunhom, Mathew Robinson to their Cine-Club sessions, which provided me with more film insight. My foreign favorite movie of the year was “3 Idiots”, Bollywood blockbuster and my Cambodian favorite, “Gems on the run” by my senior film colleague, Mr. Sok Visal, both screened during Cambodia International Film Festival 2013, which experienced its escalated success.
Maybe home is the only place I need when I feel tired of the day! So only when traveling, I explore something new to refresh my mind. My first trip of the year was with my staff to Sihanouk  province. They had been long waiting for it. With some company subsidies, our overnight tour appeared cheerful and memorable.
  Staff retreat to Sihanouk province               
Then, like I planned in 2012, my family and I went to visit Preah Vihear temple during Khmer New Year, still under territorial controversy. Despite the quiet and conflict, the complex offers us a great steep view and some sense of pride as it was listed as a world heritage a few years ago. But I was left to wonder why those border soldiers still needed our money and supplies while lots of donations had been sent their way.
In August, we made another trip to Thailand all the way from Siem Reap to Pattaya and stay a couple of nights in Bangkok before returning to Siem Reap. Unlike in 2012, I got more time to discover the Ladyboy’s City by night, especially with Phanit, her mother and aunt. Two sites there amazed me: the artificial water village and the all-wooden Sanctuary of Truth. On this fifth trip to Bangkok, the Thai capital never ceased to lure me into shopping, of course, for small gears! The big plus for my visit this time was our cruise on Chao Praya river, with their exquisite buffet and electrifying gay-cabaret show. As the world is small, I had the chance to meet my kind German friend Thomas again, who just moved to Bangkok. Over an hour of lunch, we discussed a variety of topics, from lifestyle to politics!
At the Sanctuary of Truth, Pataya, Thailand
Last September, as I mentioned above, marked our sweetest period of the year as we could be away from home together. Although Phanit visited the hill while much younger, she kept excited about the view and weather there. I got excited rather about her being alone with me! You can tell why as I’ve been there a few times already. But this time, we had Thansur Bokor Hotel accommodate us for a couple of nights. The experience was quite rewarding, except that we didn’t have too much choice when it comes to meals.
During Pchum Ben, my family and I enjoyed ourselves again at the beach of Sihanouk province. We were lucky to get Phanit aboard as she rarely said yes to my/our trip proposal! It was joyful to see how kids had fun over there. On the way back, they continued their play with water at Kirirom. But the following trip to this cool park was more productive as I headed back there with my film crew to shoot “The Missing Moment”, directed by Rithea as part of the 5 Kids film project.
Social Activities
My meetings with Mastermind Club were consistent throughout the year, but less productive. It seems like, since Raksmey and Delice got respectively pregnant, the team has lacked energy to carry out income-generating projects like “Recharging Saturday”. We tried a few plans, say, in social media and training services. But they fell apart even before we actually launched it. Needless to say, each of us kept busy with our daytime commitments, in addition to maternity.
As usual, I support JCI activities. For the first 10 months of 2013, I was just a member who tried to keep myself in the loop. In last October, I got appointed – if not elected – as Director of Community Development of Chaktomuk Chapter, with Vichet as my Vice President, Johnan as Executive Vice President, Sophear as Local President and a lot other outstanding young fellows in our Board of Directors. This is going to be another commitment of mine for 2014 as I can share more time with community and social work within a global organization like JCI.
                                         JCI Chaktomuk 2014 BoD Structure                                      
Although I resigned as an investor to SmallWorld, Sak called upon me to conduct mindset training with him for an accelerated program on entrepreneurship as part of his Center’s incubation project. It was quite rejuvenating to resume my past activity, which I believe to change people inside out.
Participants on Dream Board exercise in the mindset training
I kept attending networking events, but perhaps less than previous years, as I had to focus more on business operations. I have these groundbreaking chances anyway to learn from business figures like Mr. Ing Channy (ACLEDA’s President), Dr. Quach Mengly (Quach Mengly Group’s CEO), H.E. Sok Siphana (Advisor to RGC).
On a personal level, some of my great friends lost their singledom: Udom (Mastermind Club’s 2014 President), Chhorvuth (I’ve known since DMI training in 2008), Kimlong (young brilliant photographer I’ve befriended since our Koh Ker teaser project).
2014’s Plans
As life goes on, the New Year is probably the most hopeful period to make things better. Of course, I’m going to pursue my film passion. But as I learned from “3 Idiots”, I will make it my profession or business. On an artistic level, a 15-minute short movie is being planned. I also want to write a book either on business or love, as I know you’re reading this because you like my writing! For sure, with my business registration, I’m looking to standardize all the processes, especially with more staff.  Also, if you see me post real estate updates once in a while, it’s because I’d like to be gradually involved in this new business. To balance my life, I am aiming for four community projects, mainly with JCI. Last, but not least, I hope for an addition to my little family within this year!

I’d finally like to thank you for taking part in my 2013 and/or interest in reading my review. It’s all because “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all”. What was your 2013 adventure like? Let me know!

PS: If you’d like to find out about national events in Cambodia, the news and archive have been spread over Internet already. But if you need to hear my opinions, you can contact me in private 🙂