The story behind TWELVE SISTERS (PUTHISEN NEANG KONGREY)

Special screening with Ly Bun Yim at the 8th CIFF

   
PUTHISEN NEANG KONGREY (international title: TWELVE SISTERS) was theatrically released in 1968 in Cambodia. It was a major success of Cambodian cinema, mesmerizing the audience with unique techniques Ly Bun Yim made his great reputation of: enucleation, skull spirit getting out of the cave, flying horse and pig, and spectacular earthquake. The film starred the same glamorous couple of all Ly Bun Yim’s greatest successes: Kong Sam Oeun and Virak Dara, along with other movie stars of the time, such as Nop Nem, Saksi Sbong or Kim Nova. Interestingly, the film was one of the very few of that time shot in 35mm and not in 16mm.

Ly Bun Yim directed more than 20 films between 1960 and 1975, and unfortunately he was able to save only three of them, including TWELVE SISTERS. For long time, Twelve Sisters wasn’t shown in Cambodia, or very rarely in a poor digital quality. But the print that will be screened at this 8th edition of Cambodia International Film Festival is a newly digitized version, it is the first time since the 1970s that this major film of Cambodian cinema will be screened in optimal conditions in Cambodia. This is the story of the different steps that allowed the screening of Twelve Sisters at 8th Cambodia International Film Festival in 2018.  For its 2012 edition, Berlinale Forum, part of Berlin Film Festival, and its head Christoph Terhechte, invited my documentary GOLDEN SLUMBERS, about the lost Cambodian cinema of the 1960s-1970s, and we worked together to bring to Berlin, Germany, 3 classics of Khmer cinema in presence of their directors: two films by Tea Lim Koun were screened, SNAKE MAN (PUOS KENG KANG) and WHITE LOTUS (POV CHHOUK SOR), along with TWELVE SISTERS by Ly Bun Yim, in 35mm.
This 35mm print was found back in Norwalk, California, in the house of Ly Bun Yim’s son, Dawish D. Nil. It was sent in January 2012 to Berlin, where it was found that the image was of pretty good condition, but the audio wasn’t the original Khmer but a Thai version of the film. Ly Bun Yim explained he made that Thai version in the early 80s for a project of release of TWELVE SISTERS in Thailand, but the release never happened, and as the original 35mm print is now considered lost, what Ly Bun Yim was able to save until today is this Thai 35mm version. TWELVE SISTERS was screened on 13th February 2012 at Berlinale Forum, in presence of Ly Bun Yim, in this 35mm Thai audio version with English subtitles added, and the audience received the film with much excitement and emotion. After Berlin Film Festival, decision was made to preserve in Berlin the 35mm print, which started aging. Print was kept at -18° Celcius in the archives of Arsenal, under Christoph Terhechte’s supervision, in expectation of a restoration project, which could save the film for the future.

For its 2016 edition, Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions, in Japan, invited TWELVE SISTERS in a screening section programmed by film archivist Nobukazu Suzuki, who previously collaborated  with Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Cambodia. The 35mm print was sent from Berlin to Tokyo, where it was digitized by Tokyo Koon and Nobukazu Suzuki in HD format.

TWELVE SISTERS was screened in February 2016 at Yebisu Festival and in March 2016 at Osaka Asian Film Festival, in HD with Thai audio and Japanese subtitles. The 35mm print was returned to Berlin and HD data sent to Ly Bun Yim, in Cambodia.

In April 2017, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, in association with Japan Foundation and with the assistance of Lim Sophorn, worked with Ly Bun Yim to create a HD version of TWELVE SISTERS with re-synchronized Khmer audio and Japanese subtitles. The film was screened in HD with Khmer audio and Japanese subtitles at Japan Foundation Sakura Hall, Tokyo in April 2017.

On 7 March 2018, Cambodia International Film Festival organizes at mythical Chaktomuk Theater the first screening in Cambodia of TWELVE SISTERS by Ly Bun Yim in HD version, with the technical assistance of Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, which re-synchronized the Khmer audio and added the English subtitles made by Berlinale Forum in 2012.

Text written by Davy Chou on 1st March 2018

 

Ly Bun Yim and Davy Chou wish to express their deepest gratitude to:

 

Christoph Terhechte – Berlinale Forum and all team

Nobukazu Suzuki – Tokyo Koon

Chizuru Usui

Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions

Osaka Asian Film Festival

Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University – Tomoko Okada

Japan Foundation – Yuki Hamada

Lim Sophorn

Satoshi Sugano

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center – Chea Sopheap, Lach Ratana, Koh Rathany and An Sopheaktra

Cambodia International Film Festival – Cédric Eloy and all team

 

 

Links to articles and screening of Twelve Sisters: “Twelve Sisters at Berlinale Forum”:

http://www.arsenal-berlin.de/en/berlinale-forum/archive/program-archive/2012/special-screenings/puthisen-neang-kongrey.html

Twelve Sisters in Berlinale Forum catalogue, text by Dr. Tilman Baumgartel:

https://southeastasiancinema.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/puthisen_neang_kongrey.pdf

 

Photos of Twelve Sisters screening at Forum Berlinale:

https://goldenslumbersfilm.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/golden-slumbers-at-berlinale-forum-2012/

 

 

Twelve Sisters at Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions: https://www.yebizo.com/jp/archive/16/#pg_gardencinema-screen9

Twelve Sisters at Osaka Asian Film Festival:

http://www.oaff.jp/2016/en/program/n13.html