Vintage projectors on display at Bophana
Vintage projectors on display at Bophana
Stories & Ideas

Wed 30 Oct 2019

ACMI and Bophana: preserving Cambodia's fragile stories

ACMI Collection ACMI renewal Behind the scenes Film Preservation
ACMI author icon


Your museum of screen culture

Our media preservation team recently returned from a week-long knowledge-sharing trip to Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Phnom Penh. This film and photography archive has kept Cambodia’s fragile memories, histories and visual culture alive despite the legacy of French colonial rule and the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

We have much to learn from the skilled team of preservationists at Bophana and much to share. With the support of a grant from the Australia-ASEAN Council, we’ve partnered with Bophana to explore media preservation and the effects of cultural memory. While this partnership allows us to exchange digitisation skills, we’re most excited about the opportunity to work on two exhibitions that highlight Bophana’s stunning archive. The first will be a temporary exhibition at the Arts4peace Festival in Phnom Penh, organised by Cambodian Living Arts, and the second will be a display in our new permanent exhibition in the new ACMI.

In addition to their archive, Bophana run a gallery space, weekly film screenings, and education and training programs for young documentary filmmakers.

The gallery space at Bophana
The gallery space at Bophana

Interesting selections from their archive include newsreels made by Gaumont Pathé during French colonial rule, footage of traditional Cambodian ballet that have been used to revive dances, Hollywood-style feature films from the 1960s and early 1970s, and documentaries and dramas by contemporary filmmakers including Rithy Panh (founder of Bophana) and Davy Chou.

Some of the most essential work that Bophana does involves the reconstruction of cultural memory following decades of conflict. A vital link to the past, these films can be viewed through a custom interface that allows visitors to see a snapshot of life throughout the twentieth century, while also giving researchers, students, and filmmakers the ability to take a targeted deep dive for specific content.

Making moving image content accessible is vitally important to Bophana. The opportunity to watch historic footage that reflects a range of experiences gives agency back to viewers and enables the local community the chance to interpret the past in ways previously unimaginable. The imperative to save this footage and digital data for long-term preservation was explored at length on our visit, and we discussed methods for storing, verifying and ensuring its authenticity.

ACMI and Bophana staff collaborating on the digitisation of rare dance footage
ACMI and Bophana staff collaborating on the digitisation of rare dance footage

We were also able to see some of Bophana’s artefact collection, which includes photographs, film posters and sound recordings. We fell in love with the images that remain of the vibrant Cambodian film industry in the 1960s and 70s, as well as the vinyl record collection featuring musicians Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Pen Ran and Huoy Meas.

If you want to take a deeper look at the history of Cambodia’s film industry, we recommend the documentary Golden Slumbers (2012) by Davy Chou. Chou gathers traces of lost screen culture through interviews with survivors involved in the film industry, recreations of remembered scenes and fragments of photographs.

Over the next few months, we will be collaborating with Bophana on the next stages of this project, including a Melbourne visit for Bophana staff, and the inclusion of Cambodian archival content in our new exhibition.

Record cover: Sinn Sisamouth
Record cover: Sinn Sisamouth

An institutional partnership between ACMI, Bophana and Cambodian Living Arts is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-ASEAN Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

To help support our work with international partners to display archival content in our new exhibition please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

– Co-authored by Candice Cranmer, Julia Murphy and Nick Richardson