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The Tenth Dancer
History of the Project
Interview with the Filmmaker :: Sally Ingleton
International Film Festivals
The Dancers
Background Politics
Cultural Background
Sally Ingleton Writes About Making the Film
Movie Clip
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The Tenth Dancer

History of the Project
The filmmaker Sally Ingleton first visited Cambodia in November 1989 to investigate the possibility of producing a film about the rebuilding of the ancient Cambodian dance.
Further research was undertaken in 1990-91 with financial support provided by several non government aid organisations and Australian film funding bodies.
In Phnom Penh a strong trusting relationship was established with the key dancers in the story as well as with Cambodian government and cultural authorities.
The film was pre sold to the BBC and ABC TV and filming took place during Cambodian New Year in April/May 1992. The film was completed in 1993.
Interview with the Filmmaker :: Sally Ingleton
How did the idea for THE TENTH DANCER come about?
In the late 70's I worked as a teacher and a community worker and was involved in teaching Cambodian kids. I started to hear stories about what happened to these kids during the Pol Pot time and in the refugee camps. So, in 1989, I was planning a holiday to Vietnam and Cambodia and was talking to a friend about the country. He told me how 90% of all the artists had been killed during the Pol Pot time and how they were trying to rebuild their culture. He had heard about how they had established a dance school and were teaching young kids how to dance again. At the time I thought this would make a wonderful story of how a country recovers from the experience of war and genocide and starts to rebuild the spirit that's been knocked out of people. When I was in Cambodia I made a few enquiries about the dance school. On my last night there, I went to a performance of the dancers and was just transfixed by watching them perform. I decided that if there was a possibility of making this film - I would do it.
It took the next two years to get the film financed and sometimes the thought of going to Cambodia to make a film in another language was quite terrifying - I felt I was mad, but at the same time the story had gripped me in some way, I couldn't let it go.
One of the strongest things for me about the story of these two women was how the experience of war affects people. It is an attempt to crush the spirit, not only the human spirit but the spirit of past, memory, ancestors and their relationship with the gods - all these things are incredibly important to these people, and are equally as important to us in the western world - although often we don't realise it. They had been scarred by the experience of war, emotionally scarred and quite traumatised, and I could see that by trying to rebuild this dance troupe it was like they were healing themselves. They were trying to find the spirit inside themselves that they had lost - and in a way it was a metaphor for the country and how the country had been damaged - not only by the Pol Pot time but by decades of war starting from when the Americans had bombed Cambodia. People do get badly damaged, and I wanted to show that, show how it affects people but at the same time reveal that somewhere inside there is a strength, the flame is still alive and if you nurture it, people can come back.
Those dancers will never be the same. The dance will never be the same - with all its magic and splendour. What's there now is something quite different, the old woman, Em Theay represents that. She is a real tower of strength and is quite resolved in many ways about her past. The younger woman, Sok Chea, is still haunted by her experiences during the war. She is still in a degree of pain, whereas Em Theay has let go of it. All that she is thinking about is hanging onto the culture and impressing it into others so that something will be there when she dies.
How do the dance sequences work within the framework of the film?
I have never seen this as a film about dance. It is a film about people. In a way the dance is a metaphor for their experience of rebuilding their identity and their spirit. Dance is a perfect visual way of showing that happening. I deliberately pulled back on the dance sequences and tried to show the dance in quite measured places in the film - balanced with everyday life and archival footage.
Why did you tell the story using a non-linear structure?
I felt if I had told the story in a chronological order it would have lost a degree of intimacy with the characters and potential drama. When you first meet someone and talk to them, the sense of that person slowly emerges. That is the way I tried to let the story unfold. I held back conveying what had happened to them during Pol Pot to much later in the film when the audience would know them better and when these experiences would have greater impact.
I think memory is often neglected in documentary and it can be quite hard to capture. I think the film succeeds in weaving the story telling, incorporating memory and dreams. I like that visual movement between what is in the past and the present, memory and dreams. Ultimately we are pulled into their lives and experiences.
Can you talk a little about the two main characters?
They are both very strong women - but quite different. Em Theay is now in her 60's, she has been a mother of 18 children and has numerous grandchildren. At the time of filming she lived in a large block of flats where most of the artists in Phnom Penh lived - under very poor conditions with no electricity or running water. She is a remarkable human being with a wonderful sense of humour, resilience, strength and amazing inner beauty. When she walks in the room you really feel her presence. There was a noticeable difference when she wasn't at rehearsals. All the dancers would just be lazing around painting their fingernails but when she came in she would whip them into shape. She was always pushing them to their limits which I admired very much. Cambodia is a very hard country to live in in so many ways. To meet someone who is always trying to get the best out of people is very inspiring.
Sok Chea is very different, but also very strong. She has three young children and works hard as a dancer. But she is in conflict - she says:
'If I stay a dancer I am always going to be poor, I am never going to have any money and yet this is the only thing I know how to do.'
Part of her wants to be rich, to have a car and live in a nice house. She is haunted by her past, she suffers from nightmares and not a day goes by where she does not think about how her family died, it's always there.
How has the film affected you personally?
Making the film has been three years work and ultimately - a journey. It was something I really wanted to do and it became a case of believing in myself and trusting my intuition that the film would happen. I just had to stay on the path and make it happen - that was a very enriching experience.
What do you hope the film will achieve?
I hope that when people see the film they will be moved by it, that they will be drawn into the experiences of these two women and feel something for their lives. If the film manages to touch people and shift their emotions around a bit I'll feel like it is a success. For that is what the experience of getting to know Cambodia and its people has been like for me.
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