Busan Fest to Honor Cambodia’s Rithy Panh as Asian Filmmaker of the Year

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Rithy Panh

The director’s most recent work, “The Missing Picture” won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in May.

It’s shaping up to be a banner year for celebrated Cambodian director Rithy Panh. In May his latest documentary The Missing Picture won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival; in June he founded and launched Asia’s first heritage film festival in Phnom Penh. Next, he will receive the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award.

The festival honor is given each year to an Asian filmmaker “who has significantly contributed to the development of the Asian film industry and Asian culture.” Past recipients include Iran’s Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Japan’s Wakamatsu Koji, and Hong Kong’s Andy Lau and Tsui Hark.

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Panh, 49, was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and lost nearly all of his family to the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. He narrowly escaped to Thailand, and later fled to France, where he later took up filmmaking and has since lived. Nearly all of his work -- from his first documentary, Site 2 (1989) to Rice People (his first work to premiere at Cannes, 1994), up to The Missing Picture – has focused on the plight of the Cambodian people during and after the Khmer Rouge era.

In its announcement of Panh’s Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award, the Busan Festival also noted his work as a preservationist of Cambodian audio-visual culture. In 2005, Panh co-founded the Bophana: Audiovisual Resource Center together with director Ieu Pannakar, to collect endangered Cambodian audio-visual materials, which of had been scattered and left in fragile condition around the country after the devastating war years. The institution, now a key hub of the Cambodian film industry, educates young filmmakers as well as introduces Cambodian films to the public. In June, Panh and Bophana launched the inaugural MEMORY! International Heritage Film Festival, an event built around the theme of film heritage preservation in the region.

The 18th Busan International Film Festival will take place Oct. 3-12. A special selection of Panh’s films will be shown in conjunction with his honor.