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Features & Interviews

BAFTA-Nominated Director Chris Kelly Talks with IFTN
13 Feb 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Director Chris Kelly
IFTN caught up with Irish documentarian Chris Kelly to find out more about his debut feature documentary ‘A Cambodian Spring’, which saw him nominated for ‘Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer’ at the 2019 BAFTA Film Awards.

‘A Cambodian Spring’, is an intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia. Shot over 6 years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the ‘Cambodian Spring’ and the tragic events that followed.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2017 Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, winner of Best Documentary at the Brooklyn Film Festival and nominated for Best Feature Documentary at 2018 Irish Film & Television Awards, the critically-acclaimed film has gone on to win a number of other awards and screen at festivals around the world. Eclipse Pictures released the film in Ireland in Ireland in 2018.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Chris to find out more about his debut feature documentary.

IFTN: This documentary has been a long time in the making with you previously referring to it as a ‘labour of love’ – What inspired you to make this film and how did you first come into contact with the documentary’s subjects?

“I had been to Cambodia as a tourist in 2006 and decided to try and go back and make a film there about forced evictions and land grabbing. When we secured the funding I went back in 2009 to look for film subjects and quickly met Venerable Sovath and the ladies from Boeung Kak lake and started filming with them. I had no idea I would end up staying for six years.”

IFTN: The project received National Lottery funding and support from Northern Ireland Screen. As a first time filmmaker, how did you go about securing this support?

“I was part of a production company in Belfast that had been producing films, short films etc, then when I came up with the idea to make a film in Cambodia, I made a written application to NI Screen and the Irish Film Board for development funding and was fortunate to receive it. I also pitched the project at the Sheffield Minimeet market in 2008 and was able to get an Executive Producer called Christopher Hird on board, so that helped.”

IFTN: Whist it is a poignant subject matter, it is also a very substantial undertaking for a first time filmmaker. Can you tell me about how you approached this project on day-to-day bases?

“On a day to day basis I was keeping in touch with my fixers and translators to keep up to date with what was going on with my film subjects, and then filming anytime anything was happening, eg. protests or evictions or delivering petitions to city hall etc.”

IFTN: Do you have any plans for your next project?

“Yes I am developing two new feature documentary projects which I cannot really talk about right now, and an animated feature film about slavery in the Thai fishing industry.”

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