Phnom Penh moviegoers starting Thursday will be spoiled for choice as an international film festival 15 months in the making begins screening an ambitiously large selection of 120 films from 30 countries.
The three-day Cambodia International Film Festival opening Oct 21 has a program of full-length movies, documentaries and animated films, some produced this year and some stretching back as far as Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical romance “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
“It’s an invitation for people to turn off their television sets and mobile phones for three days in order to discover new worlds in films,” Cedric Eloy of the Cambodia Film Commission said at a news conference on Friday.
Hosted by the Ministry of Culture, the festival is organized by FX Entertainment in cooperation with the film commission and the Bophana Audiovisual Center.
The event has two main goals, Mr Eloy said: to inspire Cambodian directors to aim higher and to bring the Cambodian public back to theaters.
After the fall of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, people flocked to cinemas and movie screenings throughout the country, Som Sokun, secretary of state at the Culture Ministry, explained after the news conference. As in the case of artists and dancers, filmmakers in the 1980s received support from the Cambodian government backed by Vietnam.
This, however, stopped in the 1990s. Since then, little progress has been made in the film industry, and the public has lost the habit of moviegoing due to the increasing number of television stations, the low quality of Cambodian productions and the economy in general, Mr Sokun said.
With this in mind, festival organizers picked quality movies from Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Holland and several African countries that Cambodians cannot see on television and whose storylines are bound to interest them, Mr Eloy said.
A special effort was made to choose animated films from Japan, Serbia, India and European countries, which have little or no dialogue, for people of all ages to enjoy, he said.
Except for Cambodian films in Khmer, the language at screenings, either spoken or in subtitles, will mainly be English, he added.
The feature film “Lost Loves” of Cambodian director Chhay Bora, which will premiere on Oct 23, will be in Khmer with English subtitles, Mr Bora said Saturday.
“Asian films…were also selected to show to Cambodian directors and producers that it doesn’t always need a huge budget to make a good feature film,” Mr Eloy said. “The films from Malaysia, the Philippines or Korea that will be shown are low-budget films that have received awards all over the world. So the selection is also meant as an inspiration for local filmmakers.”
About 10 movies and 15 documentaries as well as episodes from television series by Cambodians are on the festival program. Works will include Rithy Panh’s “The Rice People,” Mao Ayuth’s “The Last Word” and Tom Som’s “Vanished.”
Organizers had hoped for more local works, but Cambodian directors showed little interest in the festival, unlike production companies with both Cambodian and Western staff, who responded enthusiastically because Westerners are more familiar with the marketing value of film festivals, Mr Eloy said.
“We have had many contacts with festival curators…in Asia and Europe who are interested in programming Cambodian films in their own events. So the festival will offer the opportunity to show them Cambodian productions,” he said.
Tickets for the screenings will be a dollar, a pass for the whole festival $5 and admission will be free for students and children.
Films will be shown at Cine Lux, Chenla Theater, the Bophana Audiovisial Resource Center and the French cultural center. Outdoor screenings will take place at the Golden Sorya Market and Koh Pich island. A film-industry trade show will also take place on Oct 22 and 23 on Koh Pich.
Apart from the screenings, special evening events will be held in town, including a talk by artist Leang Seckon, whose artwork is on the festival’s poster, at Meta House on Oct 21, and a conference on jazz music in films at Studio 182 on Oct 20.