Elise Shick sat down with Cambodian filmmaker Davy Chou, and a mentor in the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop, to discuss his filmmaking experience, and his thoughts on Cambodian’s young filmmakers.
Let’s trace your memory back to how you first got involved in the film industry that led you to your first filmmaking experience. When was it and why this route?
I was born and grew up in France. My parents moved to France in the 70s. I cannot say that I was a cinephile, it was too much to say that. It’s better to say I was a film lover, albeit a very lonely film-lover, since the age of 12. It was not like I was watching Tarkovsky and such, but I was already developing a passion for film, and I never had the idea to make films because it’s difficult to be an artist if you don’t think you can.
Anyway, I was in that high school in Lyon, my hometown, in a small organisation where there was a teacher who would explain film analysis. They had a very small camera at that time, a cheap DV camera, which you would use to make short films in a group. I didn’t want to go there because I was shy, maybe, even though I love films.
Then, one guy in my class. whom I didn’t even really know, came to me and said, “Are you the guy who really knows everything about cinema?” I said, “Ya, it’s me.” “Do you want to come with me, to that club, to make films?” he asked. “Because, I don’t know… I want to make films.” I was very reluctant, but he really pushed me and I went there.
What made you say yes?
First, the film analysis teacher really changed my way of seeing things. It was like the film, ‘The Matrix’. Have you seen it? It was like you used to see the world like this, and suddenly there was a tool to make you see it differently, or maybe see how it is made. It’s the same for films. I watch films, I was a film lover, but I still didn’t understand how films were made: the language, the grammar, the camera movements, the shots. So then I watched Hitchcock’s films and De Palma’s films, and that suddenly changed my mind. Then, I was making this first film, which was a very bad amateur parody of a comedian TV show thing. It just changed all my perspective, and right after making that first film, I was sure that that was what I wanted to do.
The passion for films didn’t come from nowhere. Where do you think your passion came from or who had influenced you?
I had an uncle who was the big fan of action cinema. In the early 90s he would bring me to watch big films made in the 80s. When I was 12, everyone was talking about ‘Seven’ by David Fincher, a very shocking film at that time. So I went to see that. However, I was an Asian living in Europe, so I looked very, very young. When the ticket seller asked for my ID and I didn’t bring it, he didn’t allow me to get in because I was 12!
Then I saw a movie poster of a film that I didn’t know about. It looked like a gangster action film, which my uncle was a fan of, so he said, “OK, let’s give it a try.” That film changed my life in two hours and fifteen minutes, because right after the screening, I felt that something had happened very strongly, and I just needed to follow that instinct.
So it was this kind of cinematic experience so powerful that it left a strong impact on you. Let’s say if you watched it at home, you would probably feel something totally different.
I think so. I think it would be totally different. I didn’t remember everything about that screening, and to be honest, I didn’t even really knew what had happened. It was just something so strong that, as a kid, it was the first time feeling so strong that you were just following, and I’m sure that it was coming from the movie theatre.
That’s why, while living in Cambodia and working in Cambodia, my first film was dealing with the lost movies during Khmer Rouge regime in the 60s. When I first lived there in 2009, I met a group of people around my age, and some who were younger; they actually never watched any films before in the theatre. It was very sad to see that.
Moving on to filmmaking, did you have a specific idea of which part of filmmaking you want to be involved in, for example like directing?
No, I was not ambitious enough to believe that. When I was 17, right after high school, when I really needed to decide what I wanted to do, I had a feeling telling me, “OK, I love it so much, I want to work in films,” but I would never dare to say, “I want to be a filmmaker.” Maybe I thought I couldn’t do it, that it was too much for me. But being on set, as a camera operator or building something together with the crew, even making coffee, that was what I really wanted to do.
This experience, then: if you could describe it in one sentence, what would it be?
It is a strange tension between something extremely selfish and something extremely collective.
I guess we’ll need more sentences to explain this…
Well, I speak from the director’s point of view. So, when I say selfish, it of course means that in the end of the day and the beginning of the day, it is really about having a vision, which is very personal, and then trying to bring a lot of people to help me and to make them feel the same desire, to project this vision unto the screen. So it is a very contradictory feeling between something very personal, intimate, selfish, and something that becomes more of a collective, but in the end, it’s for the film.
What is the trend or movement you can see amongst the young filmmakers back in your country? Are they active?
There’s a lot of active young filmmakers in Cambodia at the moment. For me, it’s a very exciting time, because around 2009 or 2010, you can’t really find filmmakers making short films at that time. It wasn’t the culture; they didn’t even know a short film is!
Some years later, in 2014, I was a jury in a short film festival in Cambodia, and we received between 40 to 50 entries. This means that, starting from zero, five years later we had around 40 young filmmakers making films in a year. It was like a movement. Of course, the quality is still very diverse, and the cultural image is still in the first stage. Nonetheless, though it remains a small community, I was very excited to see that.
In connection to that, how do you feel being a mentor in the Young Filmmakers Workshop? Is it different compared to other workshops you’ve attended?
First of all, this is my first time being a mentor. But what I can say is that I enjoy it very, very much.
What do you see in this year’s participants? Is there anything particularly striking, such as their energy or personality?
All 12 of them are so interesting! We see how they have different personalities, something we could feel from the films they were doing, and how these different personalities could fit or not fit with each other.
However, mostly they can fit together into groups, and find their own way. Of course, it is our role to give advice here and there. But mostly, I think they are trying to work together and find out how the system of shooting a film works.
Can you really teach a director to direct, though?
I don’t think you teach a director how to be a director. Not really, because it’s something that directors need to develop, their own visions, perhaps listening to their own language. If you really want a director to be creative, you just give him tools to develop his vision. But maybe we can give some advice as to how to make this happen. Everybody find their own place and position, and everybody can help to make the film become the film the director has in mind.
Elise is the content writer for the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop, organised by Next New Wave, which Davy is a mentor of. You can find out more about that here.
Featured image credit: Medical Media Training