Cultural History of Cambodian Identity as Represented Through Film from the Early Twentieth Century


Cultural History of Cambodian Identity as Represented Through Film from the Early Twentieth Century


Research Question

How did French fantasies of Indochina inform French representations of Cambodia in film? How did Cambodians experience the French imagined Khmer identity? How did French representations of Cambodia shape Cambodian identity?


CGS-Senator Malcolm Wallop ‘Conversations on Democracy’ Award


This research is significant for the completion of my Master’s thesis.

Methods Used

I will be conducted research at film and museum archive repositories in Paris and Phnom Penh. Opened in December 2006, Bophana is home to one of the largest collections of both visual and audio resources in Cambodia. Bophana has 129 collections with over 1900 videos, 847 audio recordings, and over a 150 series of photographs. Their collection includes silent French films by the Lumière brothers, movies by Norodom Sihanouk, Khmer Rouge propaganda films and documentaries, and contemporary films from the center’s founder and Oscar nominated director Rithy Panh. The center is both a film archive and film school. From this archive, I will view films about Cambodia made by Cambodian and foreign filmmakers throughout the twentieth century. This archive will be instrumental because it contains the only collection of Khmer Rouge propaganda films produced between 1975-1979. SA SA BASSAC is Phnom Penh’s most established contemporary art gallery. This gallery invites artists from all over Cambodia to exhibit their work and assists artists in creating exhibits for international display. I am primarily interested in the Vandy Rattana collection. At the National Museum and Archives, I hope to find archival records pertaining to the museum’s representation of Cambodian people and cultural heritage. In particular, I want to see if there is a continuum in French colonial representation between film and artifact—how the French represented Cambodians in film and how they structured the representation of Cambodian cultural heritage in the museum. La Cinémathèque is a museum and archive dedicated to French Film from the nineteenth century to the contemporary period. It has one of the largest collections of French film history include personal papers from directors and actors, film posters, props and technical equipment, and film clips and scripts. From this archive, I hope to find information about film budgets and shooting locations, casting information, fan-mail, studio correspondence, and government interventions to get insight into cultural perceptions of filmmakers, studios, and audience reactions. La Musée Guimet in Paris is dedicated to displaying Asian arts. The collection contains artwork from all over the Asian continent. The Southeast Asian exhibit will allow me to conduct a comparative analysis of the museum effect between Southeast Asian artifacts in Paris and in Phnom Penh.


The outcome of this research will culminate into a Master’s thesis.

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Cultural History of Cambodian Identity as Represented Through Film from the Early Twentieth Century


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