Dear readers. Here I am again with my series of portraits of atypical Khmers around the world with, this week, the co-writer of the film that is currently making a huge buzz in our French cinemas – The Rascals – and also director of the making of the film: the Cambodian Virak Thun.
Back today on the unusual journey of this Khmer who arrived in France as a child after fleeing our kingdom with his family.
You in a nutshell
My name is Virak Thun, born in a refugee camp (Surin) and I live in the Paris region.
Your childhood is atypical. Following your exodus from the refugee camps in Thailand, you find yourself in Alsace until you are 8 years old … and you absorb the regional culture and its way of life. What are your most vivid memories?
The exceptional location due to the position of our village (Dieffenthal) at the foot of a mountain, its marked cultural identity, but above all an omnipresent Christmas spirit marked by constant benevolence.
Thereafter, your installation in the Paris region will mark a radical change in your life. How will you make – from your point of view – your place as a Khmer in the middle of this totally different population of your cosy little Alsatian nest?
First struck by this multicultural mix, I am overwhelmed by this mixture of races that I would define as magical. As a result, my Khmer culture was for the house and outside I was a real French ‘Alsatian’
Your father’s influence, his reserve, his modesty about your story and his character as a whole have had a strong influence on your behaviour. What thoughts can you draw from this?
He remains my absolute model, and although the dialogues between us were few, a very strong connection was always there. However, my identity as a Khmer will only challenge me around adolescence.
Subsequently, while studying in A.E.S at the University of PARIS 13, a click will lead you to abandon this path to register at the University of PARIS 8 and start in the world of media and cinema. Explain to us this revelation.
Family pressure and my environment at the time dictated a pre-established path, but being a ‘story teller’ at heart, I took the sudden resolution to do everything to pursue my dreams.
Then in 2005 you created the PARIS LA MÉTISSE project. What is it about?
My 1st great experience: This is a collective film made by a selection of 15 foreign directors, including myself, expressing their respective visions as well as their feelings about a Cosmopolitan Paris. This project will allow me, among other things, to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the Khmer culture, confronted with the mixture of cultures.
In 2007 you created RENOASH with 4 friends, a project that you will carry out for 5 years. Can you describe it to us?
The idea was to create a synergy moving towards the creation of independent films, made by Asian or black people, and putting the people first.
What conclusions did you draw from this?
This project definitely broadened my vision of this profession and solidified my basics.
We are now moving into 2012, which you describe as A VERY IMPORTANT YEAR. Why?
The end of our RENOASH association forces me for the first time to reconsider my directions as – from now on – a person working alone.
2015 marks a new turning point in your life and your career. To what extent?
I renew contact with one of the members of RENOASH-Jimmy LAPORAL TRÉSOR, and we begin to rethink projects.
2017 takes you in new directions with the entry into GRAND PÔLE MÉDIA and what they call LE LAB and you realise LOKROU there. Could you tell us about this new experience?
The lab can be described as a talent incubator. My creativity is then at the sum and I set up LOKROU, an interactive adventure (inspired by my family) taking place during the capture of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge … and I win the Prize of the Winner.
The same year was marked by key events such as the meeting with Manuel CHICHE from JOKER FILMS. How would you qualify it? What has it brought you so far?
I would describe it as decisive and fundamental. He remains my mainstay to this day.
Today a new horizon opens up to you with the release of the film Les RASCALS: what are the main messages that you and your team would like to convey?
This new media exposure will allow me above all to highlight Cambodia and the Khmer culture, but also friendship and living together, as well as all the obstacles revolving around these values.
What were the major difficulties in making this film?
Dealing with a sensitive and noticeably deep subject, probably hard to watch for some, the biggest difficulties were:
to transcribe our visions on paper
to find funding for such subjects
What were your greatest joys?
Quite simply the concretisation of this film, which I will describe as totally faithful to my writing, with a first time for a large part of the speakers.
This film being forged in particular around racism, do you have any thoughts on the place of Asians in general – and Khmers in particular in this industry?
It was more difficult than expected, because few Asians finally showed up for the castings … would it be for fear of a lack of prospects and of being continually confined to ‘cliché’ characters?
The fact that there are only a few screenwriters, authors or Asian directors; therefore the apprehension of being misunderstood.
Finally, what advice would you give to those who would like to embark on this path?
Maintain your convictions, never give up, draw maximum inspiration from everything around us… AND WORK HARD
Interview by Chantha R.