“White Building,” Cambodia’s submission to the Oscars Best International Feature, has been making its rounds and gaining recognition at the world’s biggest film festivals. The family drama follows 20-year-old dance enthusiast Samnang as he faces sudden changes in his life while his home, Phnom Penh’s landmark tenement White Building, awaits demolition. Cinematographer Douglas Seok provides a glimpse into what occurred behind the scenes.
“Our approach had always been to give the audience a sense of the building’s spirit. It wasn't necessarily about specific architectural details, but more of what the tenement meant to the community and how it became a symbiotic living organism,” says Seok. “We weaved together two separate buildings, Pasteur and Psar Tapang, to recreate the now-demolished White Building, and it helped us let the characters breathe and have a life of their own. We wanted to honor the original building instead of trying to replicate it.”
Seok and his crew, the Anti-Archives production company, drew inspiration from their previous features and shorts, such as “New Land Broken Road,” and “Turn Left, Turn Right” which explored many of the same themes. Through their past projects, they were able to inject the right mix of dance, youth, family, and social issues into the film. “I think we had collectively developed a sense of tone, timing, and intuitive feel. When it came to shooting ‘White Building,’ we already had a strong foundation, and nothing was off-limits—so we pushed ourselves even more,” mentions Seok.