Shanghai: Chinese Auteur Jia Zhangke Strikes Film Production Deal in Cambodia

Jia Zhangke H

Jia's Xstream Pictures has struck a co-production deal with Anti-Archive for the development of 'Building,' marking the Chinese auteur's first foray into one of Southeast Asia's emerging film markets.

Jia Zhangke’s Xstream Pictures has struck a co-production deal with Cambodia-based Anti-Archive for the development of the feature Building, marking the Chinese auteur’s first foray into one of Southeast Asia’s emerging film markets.

“Xstream Pictures are always promoting young directors and helping with their growth,” the company said in an announcement on the eve of the Shanghai International Film Festival. "In 2010, Jia Zhangke funded the Wings Project [for young filmmakers]. So far, we have eight films. All eight films produced have received international recognition. We’re happy to be involved in the project Building by the Cambodian director Kavich Neang. We see the new wave from Southeast Asia in his project.”

Xstream has previously been behind a string of Jia’s acclaimed dramas, including last year’s Cannes Palme d'Or hopeful Ash Is Purest White, the fifth time a film from the Chinese director had been nominated for the award.

Jia is currently finishing production of the feature documentary So Close My Land in his home province of Shanxi and is noted for focusing his attention on social issues — and the state of modern society — in his homeland.

Building looks set to tackle similar themes. Set against the backdrop of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building — a sprawling apartment complex in the capital completed in 1963 and demolished in 2017 — the film will touch on matters close to the heart of its director Neang.

The Cambodian filmmaker previously crafted the documentary Last Night I Saw You Smiling, which looked at his own family’s eviction from the White Building and which won the NETPAC Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year.

The new film follows the story of an 18-year-old Cambodian faced with the loss of his lifelong home, according to Anti-Archive.

“As pressures mount from family, friends and neighbors, he comes to realize the history of trauma and power which divides past from possibility. It's based very much on Kavich's own life growing up in the White Building,” the company said.

Delegate producers are Davy Chou (Anti-Archive, Cambodia) and Marine Arrighi de Casanova (Apsara Films, France), while Jia and Xstream Pictures (China) will be joined by Cambodia’s Moeng Rotha as co-producers. World sales are being handled by Les Films du Losange (France), which has also picked up French distribution rights.

“After several short films and documentaries, and some co-productions on feature films, Building is our biggest and most ambitious project so far,” said Chou. “We have worked to create a space for Cambodian directors to express themselves: their unique perspectives and their own stories. Kavich Neang is one of the most talented of those new voices.

Added Chou: “Being joined in this adventure by Jia Zhangke, who is a strong inspiration to all of us, and by a house as prestigious as Les Films du Losange, gives us a lot of courage to make this film happen as we dream.”

Building is one of a number of productions on the Anti-Archive slate, following the company’s founding in 2009. They include the first feature from Thai filmmaker Nontawat Numbenchapol, previously known for documentaries, including 2013’s By The River, which looked at the case of villagers fighting the effects a lead mine had on their environment and which won a special mention award at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Cambodian cinema experienced what is known as its “Golden Age” in the 1960s before the local film industry was all but wiped out under the repressive regime of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The industry has re-emerged over the past two decades with the help of the likes of Oscar-nominated director Rithy Panh (The Missing Picture) and his Bophana Center, which promotes both film heritage and production. These days, the country produces up to 50 films a year.

Shooting on the Building project is expected to start Oct. 21 and last for five weeks, with a completion target of early 2020.