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Rithy Panh

ASEAN is a large market with a wide range of potential for innovation and capabilities, and it’s a community in which diverse Asian sentiments exist.
Hence, I think ASEAN is a very powerful coalition.

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[Keynote Speech] 2020 ASEAN-ROK Culture Innovation Summit

Rithy Panh

Presentation Video



Cambodia is a country that experienced the tragedy of war and genocide. Countless people were killed and our culture and identity was destroyed. Human dignity was severely damaged.

The genocide consisted of extremely brutal and violent collisions. Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, urgent socioeconomic reconstruction has been needed in Cambodia. Due to the death of most artists, such as writers, actors, and actresses, our cultural identity was lost. To recover we strived and fought, little by little. My senior artists who passed away were very brave. Who were active in the film industry were sacrificed, we desperately needed to foster the next generation of artists.

Education is essential to the nation’s reconstruction and it keeps us from forgetting our remembrances and memories. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, most creations, such as movies and books, were damaged. Therefore, I started a video digitalization project through the Bophana Center (1) Not only of the classic films and videos produced during the Khmer Rouge regime, but also the voices and videos produced all over the world covering Cambodia’s history to allow young people to learn about the country’s history.

For the future generation of Cambodia to overcome genocide and move forward, they should learn the country’s history and traditions. This cultural foundation can work as a stepping stone to the future. When producing films, I tend to focus more on the nation rather than myself, try my best to make the most of my scarce resources. Of course, I produced many films thinking about the history of Cambodia. Because no one will retell our history on our behalf.

Foreign interpretations of our history, economy, and society are different from our own.

Therefore, I decided to immerse myself in the history of Cambodia. I feel as sense of duty in educating the future generation. With joy, and gratitude, I will perform his task requested by the former generation and foster the youth to create images. Because the new era is the era of images, audio-visuals, and multimedia. You cannot survive without creating images of your own language, sensitivity, and perspective.

People often ask me why I make movies although I cannot afford it. They ask me, “Isn’t it better to use the money to set up a school rather than make a film?” But making our own movies, our own images, is crucial. I try to maximize what I have to capture reality. For example, I worked with people who have never recorded a voice before. I can educate them while creating something together with them. When you are working with young people on creative activities, you have to allow your imagination to bloom. even in the difficulty of reality.

<L’IMAGE MANQUANTE (The Missing Picture)> (2013)
<L’IMAGE MANQUANTE (The Missing Picture)> (2013)

Now that we are facing challenges such as th COVID19 crisis and the global economic recession, we must be equipped with very creative and unique thinking. I do not have the meas to make a movie with a large budget. If small day dolls are all I have now, I will shooot a movie with them. My work, “The Missing Picture”, made with clay dolls, it was nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival. The same is true of the movie, “The Rice People”.

I made this work with people who are new to film production. When making films, people’s imagination and power is what I value most. Because I also receive power from them. I can use this power as the driving force for my life. I like the fact that the movie is a joint project.

<Rice People> (1994)
<Rice People> (1994)

ASEAN is a large market with a wide range of potential for innovation and capabilities, and it’s a community in which diverse Asian sentiments exist. Hence, I think ASEAN is a very powerful coalition. But I still feel sorry about on thing, I think the effort put into proactive culture support is not good enough. I am not sure how to put it but I think all ASEAN countries can develop further through cultural promotion. Without cultural development, economic development cannot be achieved. In a small country like Cambodia, the situation is worse. It is difficult to form a market with a population of only 15million, but we have abilities and possibilities. Additionally, we have many appealing factors such as a beautiful natural environment and climatic conditions.

But for now, we have no choice but to collaborate with other countries. I think the future of Cambodian films lies in co-production. It is to collaborate with other countries while maintaining national identity. The ASEAN countries should have creative thinking and a sense of community. We should take a common path by expanding exchanges and collaboration. Also, I hope we can make the most of our cultural capabilities.

The reason why huge investments are made in building museums around the world is because culture is important. A key reason behind why so many people visit France, Italy. and New York every year is because there are wonderful museums and movie theaters, and traditional art is alive I believe in this spirit of sharing. Bases on thins, I hope that long-term and sustainable efforts will be made to promote culture.

My most important task today is to educate young people. As mentioned earlier, Cambodia has lost a lot of talent due to the massacre and war. Film are requires the participation of many people. Scenario writers, actors, directors, sound engineers, cameramen, and many others.

Movie making can be regarded as an important industry. The Film industry is not only about selling and exporting videos. Cinema are means to express cultural identity, way of life, and perspective to the world. I support cultural diversity and I do not want uniformity of the world.

Cultural diversity is our precious asset. And so is our culture.



Rithy Panh was born in Phnom Penh. He is a Cambodian documentary film director and screenwriter. The French-schooled director's films focus on the aftermath of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Rithy Panh's works are from an authoritative viewpoint, because his family were expelled from Phnom Penh in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge. His first documentary feature film, Site 2, about a family of Cambodian refugees in a camp on the Thai-Cambodian border in the 1980s, was awarded "Grand Prix du Documentaire" at the Festival of Amiens.

His 1994 film, Rice People, is told in a docudrama style, about a rural family struggling with life in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. It was in competition at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, and was submitted to the 67th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, the first time a Cambodian film had been submitted for an Oscar. His 2003 documentary, S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, about the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison, reunited former prisoners, including the artist Vann Nath, and their former captors, for a chilling, confrontational review of Cambodia's violent history. The 2012 documentary, Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell, is about interviews with Kang Guek Eav, a former leader in the Khmer Rouge, also known as Duch, tried by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and sentenced to 30 years of prison, but appealing against the conviction. However, he was finally sentenced to life imprisonment after the appeal. His 2013 documentary film The Missing Picture was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it won the top prize. Rithy, along with director Ieu Pannakar, has developed the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with an aim towards preserving the country's film, photographic and audio history. The center's namesake is the subject of one of his early docudramas, Bophana: A Cambodian Tragedy, about a young woman who was tortured and killed at S-21 prison.



  • Bophana Center

"Cambodia is a young country, and we must give prospects to the youth. The past tells us what may happen tomorrow; and images are here to make us think and feed us; it is a great strength to move forward. Education helps us analyze the images and master the techniques; creation enables us to speak up but also express what we see and how we feel." (Rithy Panh)

 Bophana Center acquires film, television, photography and sound archives on Cambodia all around the world; and it gives free public access to this precious heritage. For Cambodians, it opens the door to huge swathes of their memory. Since it opened on December 4, 2006, over 240,000 people have (re)discovered these documents in Phnom Penh and throughout the country. For teachers, students, researchers or journalists, it is an exceptional documentary base. Today nearly 700 hours of video are available, including: the first movies of the Lumière brothers in the late nineteenth century; recent fictions by Cambodian directors; TV coverage; nonprofit movies; documentaries; Norodom Sihanouk’s movies; etc. Meanwhile, hundreds of archives are being organized and indexed.

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