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post-title Cambodia International Film Festival 2017

Cambodia International Film Festival 2017

Cambodia International Film Festival 2017

Cambodia International Film Festival 2017

“I believe Cambodia’s film industry is going to become bigger and bigger every year,” says Sok Visal, one of
Cambodia’s leading directors and creator of Gems on the Run and Poppy Goes to Hollywood. The continued
expansion of Cambodian produced films, a snowballing cinema audience and an internationally recognised
film festival all indicate that Visal’s faith in the Cambodian film industry is not misplaced.

Cambodia’s flourishing film industry was devastated under the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime and during
the years of civil war. The pre-1975 arts, music and film scene boasted over 30 cinemas in the capital alone.
Annual film festivals attracted numerous film production companies who would gather in the capital to see
some of the Kingdom’s best made films. Foreign films struggled to compete in Cambodian cinemas, lasting
only weeks whilst the demand for Khmer films kept them there for months on end. Sadly, cultural purging
lead to the destruction of film, art and closure of the once prospering movie theatres. Subsequently, many
were transformed into karaoke bars, massage parlours or restaurants.

According to Visal, the film industry began its road to recovery five years ago- triggered by the opening of
Legend Cinema. Since 2010, the amount of Khmer films released has increased and their quality improved.
A River Changes Course, directed by Kalyanee Mam, was premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and
received critical acclaim winning the Grand Jury Award for World Cinema and Best Documentary Film at
the San Francisco International Film Festival. Rithy Panh’s documentary film, The Missing Picture, was
screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2013 and won the Un Certain Regard prize and was
nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars. However, as Visal notes, there is still a long way to go,
particularly for feature films:

“The goal now is to make better Cambodian movies. At the moment, young people prefer watching
Hollywood movies because they’re better made and it’s worth the money.”

Perhaps the biggest spotlight on Khmer film, and the hope for its return to its former success, is the annual
Cambodian International Film Festival (CIFF) co-organised by the Cambodia Film Commission (CFC) and
Bophana Center. The seventh event, held in March 2017, hosted 130 screenings across nine venues in the
capital. It saw a mix of international and Khmer short stories, documentaries and feature films. The festival
devoted screenings to Stories of Cambodia which premiered eight Cambodian produced feature films,
including Davy Chou’s Diamond Island, Jimmy Henderson’s regional success Jailbreak and Visal’s own
Poppy Goes to Hollywood. “They’re a really good platform for local filmmakers to showcase their movies,
to meet people, to meet producers and colleagues,” notes Visal, adding, “its putting Cambodia on the map
for a lot of directors.” Indeed, one director who has lifted the event’s profile internationally was Angelina
Jolie, director of First They Killed My Father, an adaption of author Loung Ung’s memoir of the Khmer Rouge

As well as organising the CIFF, the CFC attract and facilitate the making of foreign films in Cambodia. The
Commission has captured foreign interest in shooting in the beautiful, untouched regions of Koh Kong,
Kampot, Siem Reap and Mondulkiri. Foreign film projects in Cambodia continue to increase and in the
process CFC is training Cambodian’s in how to become crew members. “In 1996, foreign films had 95%
foreign crews,” says Mr Sovichea Cheap, Director of CFC, “for First They Killed My Father, there were 500
crew members and 70% were Khmer.” Cheap and Film Commissioner, Khemara Sun, believe that foreign
interest in shooting in Cambodia, and interest in broadcasting films at Cambodian film festivals will
encourage Khmer produced film. It’s true that there is a remarkable increase in interest; the duo note that,
“at CFC’s first filmmaking workshop there were 6 participants, now we have over 100.”

Phnom Penh’s starlit international festival is not the only one celebrating Khmer film. Many niche festivals
across the nation are working with independent, up-and-coming filmmakers. Chaktomuk Short Film
Festival, the brain-child of the Kon Khmer Koun Khmer film collective, is Cambodia’s biggest internationally
recognised short-film festival. In October 2017, it will be showcasing, for the 6th time, the best short-films
by young, local filmmakers. Alongside the festival is FilmCampKH, an initiative which trains prospective
filmmakers in how to produce short films.

CamboFest, the brain-child of film-director Jason Rossette, began in 2007 and was Cambodia’s first
internationally recognised film festival since the Khmer Rouge regime ended. Attendees at CamboFest have
enjoyed its grassroots, independent atmosphere over the years and the festival has helped train youth
groups to run their own movie screenings.

Kampot Readers and Writers Festival is another stage for new ideas. Whilst its title purports to be a festival
dedicated to literacy and books, the creative initiative includes a range of music, media, films and

This year also saw the regions first ever feminist film festival. The Phnom Penh Feminist Film Festival,
which screened across three weekends, exhibited both international and Khmer films from a feminist
perspective. The films, including a Khmer, LGBTI documentary by feminist filmmaker Sao Sopheak, showed
an alternative to mainstream, male-centric movies and got the audience thinking about sensitive topics in

The existence and continuation of not only large-scale festivals, but also smaller, local festivals, amplifies
and strengthens the Khmer film industry. Visal proposes that one day, “people don’t just come here for
Angkor Wat, but come because there is a cool film festival on



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