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Cambodian sci-fi movie Karmalink has been named the opening night film of this year’s Venice International Film Critics’ Week, the sidebar competition running Sept. 1-11, parallel to the 2021 Venice International Film Festival.
Directed by Jake Wachtel in his directorial debut, Karmalink — set in a near-future Phnom Penh — deals with reincarnation, artificial consciousness, displacement of poor communities and augmented reality. The story follows a teenage boy who teams up with a street-smart girl from his neighborhood to untangle the mystery of his past-life dreams. What begins as a hunt for a Buddhist treasure soon leads to greater discoveries that will either end in digital enlightenment or a total loss of identity.
Wachtel began developing the film in 2015 while teaching a yearlong course in filmmaking to youths living in a resource-strapped community in Phnom Penh. He cast two star students from his youngest class, Srey Leak Chitth and Leng Heng Prak, as the leads, and shot the film on location after living in their community for much of the next three years. In addition to these young non-actor leads, the cast consists of Sahajak Boonthanakit (Only God Forgives, The Beach) and Cindy Sirinya Bishop (The Crown Princess), as well as local Cambodian actors Sveng Socheata (First They Killed My Father) and Rous Mony (The Prey).
Karmalink is produced by Valerie Steinberg, a first-time feature film producer whose award-winning shorts include Hair Wolf (Sundance), Coffee Shop Names (Tribeca) and Blocks (Sundance). The co-producers are Cambodian director-producer Sok Visal of 802 Films, as well as Christopher Rompré of LittleBIG Films. Todd Brown and Nate Bolotin of XYZ Films serve as executive producers, and Christopher Seán Larsen, Monica Palmieri, and Robert Leitzell are associate producers. LevelK is handling world sales with XYZ handling North America.
The screenplay was penned by Wachtel and Christopher Seán Larsen (The Long Walk, Dearest Sister), with cinematography by Robert Leitzell, production design by Olga Miasnikova, editing by Harrison Atkins and Stephanie Kaznocha, music by Ariel Marx, sound design by Vincent Villa and visual effects by Blaise & Kyle Hossain.
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