Seeing Siem Reap
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  Themes and Styles

Booksellers of Siem Reap use varying techniques to reflect different energies and spaces. The chaotic street world is shot hand-held and verite while the more staid tourists spaces have a controlled, formalized style using a tripod and deep focus. Wide shots create a tableaux look in which action is set. Abstract close-ups reveal subtle patterns of line and shape that repeat throughout the spaces. The documentary was shot with the ‘film look’ of the Panasonic DVX100A with the 24 frames option.

Woven around the narrative of the street children attending a creative workshop is the exploration of photographic representation and perspective. The children’s photography workshop, the photography festival and the barrage of tourists toting cameras all reveal the perpetual creation of new visual representations as experience and history. These still images are incorporated to show the different ways of seeing.

The images that appear in screenings and gallery shows provide historical, political and social context to further shape understanding of the life in Cambodia. Some of this work has been widely published, demonstrating that whoever the photographer is frames and represents history and creates the substance of memory for the collective unconscious.

The images yielded from the children’s workshop reflect their perspective on what may be commonplace for them and exotic to outsiders. Their photography is purely based on intuition and spontaneous inspiration.

Tourists are continually snapping photos, creating images that witness, honor, and consume the spaces, people and objects on their visit.

The kids and the tourists overlap when the kids photograph the tourist street and the tourists themselves as the tourists photograph them. Each population photographs and thus fetishizes the other.

Locations filmed throughout Siem Reap reveal stark contrasts between the sites in which the Khmer live and work, juxtaposed with spaces of comfort and luxury frequented by the tourists, as well as the spaces of creative pursuit for the kids workshop and for the international photography festival.

Spaces frequented by tourists include highly stylized hotel lounges, restaurants, internet cafes, bars, and souvenir shops. Sleek, almost sterile modernity is a dramatic contrast to the rustic and impoverished dwellings of the kids’ village and the surrounding countryside. Some tourist spots are designed to imitate traditional Khmer style, using mock reliefs, local textiles, and architectural styles all meant to invoke and authentic feel and experience.

The film also explores the consumption and commodification of the Khmer culture that is a result of global tourism. Tourists flock to see the relics of an ancient culture and purchase souvenirs as touchstones to the exotic and authentic culture, but often don’t see the people or comprehend their lives. This phenomenon is best represented by Angkor Wat, which appears ad nausea in print, as carvings on t-shirts, as business icons, and in countless forms as other souvenir items.

Local people participate in this ritual, making ‘traditional’ items that ‘represent’ their culture. Scenes set in Artisans d’Angkor and the Silk Farm show Khmer people as they carve, paint, sew and sculpt items representative of famous cultural icons. Tourists walk the grounds and watch the artists at work and purchase their wares in a posh souvenir store.

Interviews were conducted via a Khmer translator so that the children could express themselves in their native tongue. They reveal their family stories and the details of their lives. They also reveal their hopes and dreams for the future.