Phnom Penh residents will get a taste of European cinema this week with the seventh annual European Union Film Festival, which started Tuesday and runs through Saturday at the French Cultural Center and will feature films drawn from eight participating EU member-states.
Organized by the European Commission’s delegation to Cambodia, the festival is timed to coincide with Europe Day, the May 9 celebration that marks the anniversary of the first proposal for the creation of a united Europe.
The festival opened with “Demain On Demenage,” a French comedy about a widow who moves in with her grown daughter, and will close with “The Duchess,” Saul Dibb’s lush British costume drama starring Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In between will be a hodgepodge of films from countries as disparate as Sweden (“Kids in Da Hood”) and Bulgaria (“Monkeys in Winter”), dealing with topics ranging from Santa Claus (Finland’s “Christmas Story”) to Communism (Germany’s “Good Bye Lenin!”).
Rafael Dochao Moreno, the EC’s charge d’affairs in Cambodia, presented the festival as an opportunity for the EU to promote itself, its values and its humanitarian activities here while simultaneously exposing Cambodians to a world beyond their borders.
“One of the wonderful things about cinema,” he said Tuesday, “is that it is a form of art, but it is also a way to see how the people they live, how the people they love, how the people they eat. All of these things you can see through the screen,” he said.
Unlike most film festivals, the EUFF had essentially no selection criteria; the festival’s organizers merely asked EU states with a diplomatic presence in Cambodia to submit films for consideration. Nearly every submission was accepted. “We don’t receive masses of films,” Mr Dochao Moreno admitted. “We don’t need to make a strong selection process. The only criterion is a letter [giving permission for] the films to be shown in Cambodia on a specific date.”
The resulting batch of eight films will be screened at the French Cultural Center because of the high quality of the facilities there, and all will be subtitled in either English or French because of the extreme difficulty of unearthing film prints with Khmer subtitles. The lack of a Khmer-language entrance point for audiences is an enduring problem for festival organizers, Mr Dochao Moreno said, as is the lack of a thriving cinema-going culture in Cambodia.
“It’s very difficult in a country with no theaters, or almost no theaters, to create this attitude of people going to the movies,” he said. But attendance at the EUFF has risen each year since its inception: Around 1,000 people attended last year’s festival, and even more are expected this year.