I had been following the Flickr stream of Cambodian photographer Chea Phal for several years now. He does a lot of commercial work, but I knew him as the godfather of urban exploration in Cambodia. When I heard he was going to be back in Phnom Penh from Japan for a few weeks, I knew I had to make the trip from Vietnam to Cambodia in order to meet him. He graciously took me around for two days and acted as my local guide, fixer, translator, and motorbike driver. He was a fantastic host and I hope that I can repay him one day when he visits Canada.
We were greeted at the Department of Cinema building by an older retired man who now acts as its caretaker. The building is an archive for historic films - primarily of Khmer, Soviet, and Vietnamese origin. Only one room in the entire building is kept in a temperature controlled environment. Presumably, this is where the more important film reels are stored. One shelf contained archival Pol Pot footage. Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge, the group responsible for the death of 25% (2 million) of Cambodia's population during the genocide in the 1970's. To say the footage in that room is 'important' would be an massive understatement.
Most of the remaining parts of the building are currently locked up and inaccessible. Chea Phal worked some magic and the soft spoken and polite caretaker carefully walked us through those parts, answering the million questions I had about the films and its archives. This was an incredibly informative experience and goes down as one of the more unique and enjoyable locations I've had the chance to explore. I don't think I've been in a building with so much culturally historic significance within its walls.
[A Chinese made film on Pol Pot. The shelf it sits on contains other rare footage, which have all since been digitized]
[Typewriters at the entranceway to a place I'll call 'The Bat Cave']
[A Vietnamese film - the sticker vaguely translated as "Import/Export Release Film"]
[Massive piles of old Soviet film posters litter two of the rooms]
Note: all shots taken with Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 25mm (50mm equivalent) lens @ F/1.4-F/2 and ISO 1600-3200.
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