Power Women: Nimol Bunchan of SASTRA Film on How to Successfully Navigate Work, Love, and Life as a Powerful Woman

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readFeb 27, 2024

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Listen to your heart. When problems arise, pause. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. The answers ultimately lie within. Trust your inner compass — it’ll keep you strong and focused.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nimol Bunchan.

Nimol Bunchan, a pioneering figure in Cambodia’s film industry, serves as the CEO and Founder of SASTRA Film (SASTRA Co., Ltd). Under her leadership, the company has grown into an industry juggernaut, employing some 150 individuals and fostering opportunities for over 200 artists each year. Deeply devoted to the advancement of Cambodian entertainment, Nimol is responsible for the production of some 700 TV episodes, 20-plus feature films, and numerous educational projects annually.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born in Kampuchea Krom, a Khmer community in the southern part of Vietnam. I studied in a Vietnamese state school in grade 2 and learned Khmer at a pagoda whose monks were teachers in the evening. I remember sneaking peeks through my neighbor’s window to watch their TV. I loved the dramas and dreamed of becoming a writer. When I moved to Cambodia with my family, I began my Khmer school in grade 1. I was an outstanding student so was able to skip some grades. Due to my parent’s job changes, we had to relocate a lot. I remember helping my family financially by taking on odd jobs like laundry, carrying water, fishing, selling vegetables, and so on.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

One thing that led me to this career was the absence of Khmer Krom women having writing careers in Vietnam and Cambodia. Because of my strong passion for writing, I decided to be a role model for the women in my community. I believed that if could become a professional writer, I could use that to motivate my community and change their mindset toward females in this line of work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have done many jobs over the years. I was a reporter for a magazine, a songwriter, and a music video director. I even went outside the box to do Network Marketing to save money in order to start a film company. But the money I made was not even enough to put food on the table. Fortunately, I had a husband who owned a motorcycle. I asked him if it was possible to pawn this motorcycle so that I could produce a short film and to start a film company. He supported my idea.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I think the result I have achieved today comes from my passion toward love. I believe that if we do something with true love, we will find people who share that same love and passion. Working together, we can grow as a loving team.

I feel you need to have a firm belief that hard work pays off. A confident leader will be the role model for a confident team. I’ve always believed that I could bring the Cambodian film to the international market.

Positivity is very important for me as a leader. Even during the pandemic, I never complained about anything. Instead, I figure out solutions. I work hard and always with these three character traits. I also have a do-it-now habit, which means I never delay anything. This, in turn, affected my team and resulted in, for example, them producing an educational film that is very well-known in Cambodia in just one day.

Okay, thank you for that. Let’s now jump into the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

When women work in high-ranking positions, there seems to be a lack of familiarity in society. Traditionally, many of those positions have been predominantly held by men. Consequently, when a woman assumes a leadership role, people likely don’t believe in her. Also, the opportunities for strong women to serve as leaders such as ministers or presidents are disproportionately limited compared to their male counterparts. Sadly, the social mindset sometimes discourages women from even daring to dream of occupying such leadership roles.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

I don’t mind sharing a personal experience as an example. A close relative of mine, an elderly man, neither supported nor believed that I could produce a movie. His perspective aligned with the more traditional gender roles where women are expected to remain at home, cook, take care of children, and be housewives. When he learned that I wanted to start a film company, he expressed dissatisfaction. I approached him for financial assistance to kickstart my business, but he declined, asserting that I was not capable enough to run such a business. According to him, I should have opened a small shop at home instead.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

When those around me express discomfort and doubt my abilities, I choose to remain silent and focus on getting work done to ensure positive outcomes that benefit not only myself but also my entire team. I’ve found this approach effectively diminishes discomfort in those people.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

It’s my opinion that we first need to understand that every individual, regardless of gender, should work hard to achieve remarkable results and contribute positively to the people around them. Secondly, we must increase the opportunity for women to work in high positions with a great impact on society so that it can significantly influence societal attitudes toward women. Lastly, women themselves should harness their abilities to the fullest and demonstrate their true worth.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

One such struggle is verbal sexual exploitation. When we interact with men, some of them take advantage of the situation to discuss matters beyond work-related topics. This poses a significant risk for women, and I’ve personally encountered it, even when dealing with men in equal or higher positions. There is also the demands of natural duties. Women may find themselves pregnant while also being responsible for crucial work tasks and some of their opportunities are lost to men due to this situation.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I’d say, personal safety concerns. Despite living in a peaceful society, women still grapple with safety issues. Attending meetings alone or working late at night can be unsafe for women. And there are also health challenges. Nature dictates that women bear the role of motherhood. Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery can take a toll on their health. Yet as leaders, they must continue making critical decisions and fulfilling their professional duties. Unlike men, who don’t face such physical demands, women often find themselves returning to work while still recovering. When I was pregnant with my first child, I continued to work until the day I gave birth. And a week later I had to come back to work. I also had some health issues later on.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

I can say it was quite difficult at first. My business is a film business which requires me to work both in the office and on set. I have three children and a husband who is also working as a general manager in my company. At first, I had many problems with my family life. My husband and I didn’t get along well because I’d focused too much on my work. There were times when I’d worked almost 24 hours a day and slept in the office. I didn’t even have time to see my children because, by the time I’d get home, they had already fallen asleep. And I’d have to leave for work early while they were still asleep. I feel it took a toll on the mother-child relationship and my married life. It was affecting me mentally and I struggled with sleep for nearly two years. I had to take sleeping pills before bed every night. But I eventually found a way to fit my personal and family life into my career life.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

I had to change myself. I did not blame my husband, children, or even myself. I instead decided to write down all the problems and figure out solutions for them. I sought medical advice for the mental aspects and rescheduled my work, giving myself more time for family and personal life. I arranged time for exercise, reading, and listening to motivational speeches. I put a focus on taking my children to school and being with them before taking on any work. During working hours, I focused only on work. After school, I’d pick up my children and spend time with the family. Regular sleep became one of my priorities, and I aimed for a 10 o’clock bedtime. I noticed that I was working fewer hours but with better results.

Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need to Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?”

  1. Know your desires. When you’re clear about what you want, your path becomes clearer too. It’s like having a map to guide you.

2. Learn and grow. Once you’ve identified your desires, it’s time to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to achieve them. Learning is essential.

3. Share your wisdom. You can’t thrive in isolation. Teach others what you know. By lifting them up, you elevate yourself, too. I’ve personally trained many young writers at SASTRA Film.

4. Set ambitious goals. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Aim high! When you have big goals, setbacks won’t weaken your resolve. After reaching one milestone, prepare for the next.

5. Listen to your heart. When problems arise, pause. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. The answers ultimately lie within. Trust your inner compass — it’ll keep you strong and focused.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast with Oprah Winfrey. I would take the opportunity to learn from her experience in leading her media empire as a female. Her insights would be invaluable and key to my own leadership journey.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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