Interview: Kavich Neang, director of New Land Broken Road

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GSFF speaks to Kavich Neang about his new film New Land Broken Road and its distinctive themes of displacement in modern Cambodian culture. Drawing on the changing landscape of endless skylines and building sites, Neang tells the story of Cambodian youth, dance and hope in the shadow of a city in disconnect. Surrounded by a crumbling cityscape, three young hip-hop dancers set out in search of a connection with the world around them, where the isolated outskirts of Phnom Penh echo the loss of their broken home. In this conversation, Neang elaborates on his personal attachment to the film’s themes, and their relevance to his own generation. 

Displacement and urban development are themes explored across a number of your films. What is it about these ideas that continues to draw you to them?

Cambodia is a small country in the world, but has faced many histories of civil wars. Now it’s a peaceful country, but most people are not happy with how it looks. The country has changed a lot with new developments. Many old buildings have been destroyed, and new buildings have been built – many are casinos. My parents faced displacement when they lived during the Khmer Rouge period as they moved from one place to another, but now it’s my generation and we’re still facing it. I wanted to understand the difference from the past and the present, and what it will be like in the future.

Why do you think it is important to explore these recurring themes creatively? 

I think it’s very helpful and important in a country like Cambodia. As an artist, it’s quite challenging to express what you want to say and think because you’re not free to, but being creative, it helps us to find a way to overcome those challenges. Regardless, creativity is a fun process to be explored in general.

Your film New Land Broken Road is aesthetically rich and colourful in its cinematography. What drew you to this style and how did you achieve the visual effect?

It’s a youthful and dancing film dealing with the future dream. The characters stop their motorbike in front of new promotions of new developments, luxury cars, villas, etc. In this film, I wanted to explore my feeling as a filmmaker and their feeling as the actors, which is sometimes a mixed feeling of optimism and doubt, living in the middle of rapid development in Cambodia.

The film presents an invariable snapshot of youth in the midst of changing space. Why did you choose to focus on these youthful characters?

I think there are many stories I’ve learnt about Cambodia in the past, but never experienced. Nowadays, there are even more stories happening in everyday life in this country. As I was born in this generation, I am interested in these stories and I wanted to talk more about this generation.

Dance plays a pivotal role in the film. How and why did you use the medium to further explore the themes of New Land Broken Road?

Part of it is from my own experience as a former traditional dancer. I think watching people dancing is a very fun and intimate thing. This is why I am interested in portraying it.

Interview by Heather Bradshaw. New Land Broken Road screens in Bill Douglas Award 2: Impressions.