kampot town – The organizers were nervous. It had rained until late afternoon Saturday, and at sundown, puddles still stood between residents and the movie screen.
Still, when the outdoor screening started at 7 pm, a small crowd had already gathered, and by the film’s end about half of Kampot’s town plaza had filled.
Seated on the ground or resting on their motorbikes, about 700 people turned out to enjoy the French Cultural Center’s “Movies on the Road” showing, organizers said. Saturday’s audience was about half what the film program attracted in Kampot town last month when the day of the screening had been sunny and dry, center Director Alain Arnaudet said.
Movies on the Road is the cultural center’s first attempt to hold a series of outdoor activities for large audiences outside the three urban centers—Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang—where the center has facilities. “The French Cultural Center has a national mandate…and Cambodia is not just three cities,” Arnaudet said.
For its first endeavor, the center picked films because people are familiar with movies and because dubbing foreign films into Khmer eliminated any language barriers, Arnaudet said.
This program, which began last month and runs into early June, is scheduled to show between two to four films in each of 12 provinces.
Each screening includes three elements: a montage of photos by either Cambodian or French photographers; a short documentary on various topics, such as Saturday’s 10-minute film on Cambodian athletes with physical disabilities; and the feature film itself.
On Saturday, viewers were shown “Didier,” a 1997 French comedy about a dog magically turned into a man who, having retained his canine physical abilities, becomes a star football player. Most of the audience smiled and laughed their way through the movie.
For many, the showing was their first exposure to a European film.
Heam Sochea, 30, an eighth-grade biology and chemistry teacher, said “Didier” was entirely different from what Cambodians are used to, even though they are familiar with magic in stories. In Cambodian films or theater, magical events take place in legends involving kings and mythical characters, he said. “In this film, a dog-turned-man plays football; magic takes place in daily life,” he said.
Barring the province’s annual Cambodian art performance and occasional shows organized by product promoters, Heam Sochea could not recall encountering free cultural events such as “Movies on the Road” in Kampot town.
With the approval of the Ministry of Culture, provincial governors and performing arts departments, the French Cultural Center plans to run its second film series in the dry season starting around November, said Kor Borin, head of cultural services and communication for the center.