Mao Ayuth, one of the few Cambodian filmmakers to survive the Khmer Rouge era, during which most artists and intellectuals were killed, and who then rose to become secretary of state in the Ministry of Information, died on April 15 in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. He was 76.
Phos Sovann, a spokesman for the ministry, said the cause was complications of Covid-19.
Mr. Mao Ayuth, who was also a novelist, poet and screenwriter, began his film career in the 1960s and early ’70s, in what became known as a golden age of Cambodian cinema. Filmmaking flourished under the country’s leader at the time, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, an avid cineaste who directed his own films.
Chet Chong Cham” (“I Want To Remember”), a story of survival during the previous decades of civil war and ruin, is told in flashbacks within flashbacks. It, too, proved popular among a people hungry to see scenes from their recent past.
The Cambodian movie industry then experienced what may have been the fastest growth and quickest decline of any in the world. At its peak, the industry produced 167 films in 1990; the number dropped to just 31 in 1994.
One reason was competition from flashier foreign films; another was the advent of television in Cambodia. But the main cause was film piracy. As soon as a film was screened, it would be pirated and taken home on discs. The absence of strong copyright laws continues to debilitate Cambodian cinema.
Mr. Mao Ayuth’s most popular film, “Ne Sat Kror Per” (“The Crocodile”), in 2005, was based loosely on his childhood memories of crocodile hunters, telling the story of a hunt for the mythical Crocodile King.
He was born on July 8, 1944, in Kampong Cham province, in the central lowlands. His father, Men Thoeung, was a commune official. His mother was Tai Sing.
After attending a scriptwriting program in the early 1960s, Mr. Mao Ayuth worked at Cambodia’s first television station, starting as a production assistant and rising to news director.
A decade later he went to France with a stipend from the national television and radio agency. While on a vacation in the Swiss Alps, he used his hand-cranked camera to produce footage that became part of “Beth Phnek Hek Troung.” The winter scenes of mountains, ski lifts and tourists in fur hats were a thrill for Cambodians, who had never seen snow.