Polen Ly on „Chhngai Dach Alai“ / interview

Born in the Cambodian province of Kandal in 1989. In 2012, he broke off studies in medicine to pursue filmmaking. His short films and documentaries focus on environmental and social topics including the life experiences of Indigenous and LGBTI+ people. In 2015, he was selected for a writing residency at the University of Iowa; in 2018, he participated in the Asian Film Academy in Busan, South Korea.

What was your starting point for “Chhngai Dach Alai”?

In 2017, I did research for my first feature-length documentary in an indigenous village in northern Cambodia. At that time, the villagers were ordered to evacuate, as a hydro-power dam reservoir was going to launch and the reservoir would flood the entire village and forest. While following the documentary process, I witnessed many stories from the villagers and from observing the situation. So I also began to write the short script (Further and Further Away) in order to tell a story from a more intimate angle, and in a fictional form that gave me a possibility to form those stories into one time and one space.

Throughout those years since 2017, the shape of the story kept changing over and over, as my relationship with the place and people grew closer. It was my longest journey of script development yet. 

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

My most memorable moment was during the raining scene. It wasn’t in the script at all. While shooting the scene, which was an emotional moment for the main character, the rain just poured down, which immediately changed the mood of the environment. Everything became so serene. The crew took a rest. The main actress fell asleep. So, I could capture her natural state of calmness. For me, it was a moment for us to slow down to feel the presence of the moment more closely, instead of running after the schedule. It was funny too that we had held a small ritual at the start of the production to pray to the land spirits for good weather (all the crew are indigenous). But then the rain turned out to be essential and meaningful for the scene. I always had this joke with myself that maybe the Spirits understood the emotion of the scene more than me; that’s why they gave us rain.

What do you like about the short form?

It’s hard for me to distinguish between the long form and the short form, despite their difference in length, for sure. Each form does their own part. 

It’s like when you cook two kinds of foods; one has more ingredients and takes a longer process than the other, but they can be delicious in their own way. 

But regarding the storytelling, what I like about the short form is that it gives you room to experiment with your subject in a more carefree way than the long form, without thinking too much of the risk you’re going to take. And, technically speaking, the short form provides you a ground to develop your discipline and maturity to take on your first feature film.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunong_people

Photo © Dorothea Tuch

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