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The main event: a guide to the Cambodia International Film Festival

Cambodian short documentary Shadows Within will be screening at this week’s festival. Photo supplied
Cambodian short documentary Shadows Within will be screening at this week’s festival. Photo supplied

The main event: a guide to the Cambodia International Film Festival

Now in its seventh year, the festival is attracting filmmakers, stars, students and fans from around the city and the globe. This week’s events offer a wide range of themes for movie, art and music lovers, and a unique platform for the Kingdom to celebrate its creativity

When the Cambodia International Film Festival began in 2009, it was responding to a very specific need: films made in the country simply did not have a platform for screening. With no major cinemas, the crewmembers often would not even have a chance to view their own work on the screen.

“We started to say ‘we should bring some of these films back,’” says Cedric Eloy, the chief executive officer of the Cambodian Film Commission and one of the festival organisers. After beginning with an approximate audience of a thousand people, the festival has grown yearly, and organisers expect this incarnation, which begins tonight and runs through Thursday, to exceed 20,000 attendees.

Despite expanding alongside the industry, Eloy says the festival has maintained its mission – to give filmmakers a platform, to present trends in local cinema to outsiders working in the industry, and to develop a local knowledge base about movies from all over the world.

For the first time, this year’s edition will be held in the spring, where Eloy expects it to remain in coming years. The lineup is an intoxicating mix of local and regional films, with Western offerings sprinkled throughout, as well as a celebration of local music, arts and dance. Because of the range of films, the organisers have tried to arrange the agenda as much as possible by theme – for example, there will be a showcase of Lao cinema, a series on the Rwandan genocide, and a collection of films for children.

“There’s really a desire to make it accessible to a large audience without it feeling too overwhelming, so that’s why there’s an intention to have all these different themes,” Vanaka Chhem-Kieth, a press officer for the festival, says. On top of providing nearly a week of entertainment for residents, the festival is also an opportunity to foster a local film ecosystem.

“We do film production and film training most of the year, so we connect everything we do [with the festival] … and people can make professional connections between Cambodia and other industries [elsewhere],” Eloy says. “A lot of people, when they come to present their film here, discover that there is an industry. They make connections and might have an idea for other projects. So it leads to other films in the future and other collaborations.”

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Cambodian documentary Three Jewels will be debuting. Photo supplied

Director Rithy Panh, whose documentary Exile will be making its Cambodian premiere, sees the festival as an opportunity for locals to see and hear perspectives potentially unfamiliar to them.

“You have nearly 30 different countries [where films being shown are made] and these are 30 different points of view and ways of doing cinema differently, and I find that it’s important for our youth to discover these different viewpoints,” he says. “It’s not sufficient [for success] to have a good diploma in management. You also need culture.”

In order to make the festival as accessible as possible for the public, the organisers have implemented a ticketing system that allows the first half of the audience to get in free, while all subsequent tickets cost just $1.

For admission to all the events, and the perk of getting to skip lines, the public can purchase a pass for the entire festival for 50,000 riel ($12.50). In line with targeting a young, local audience, Koh Pich will host a series of open air events, including a screening of Davy Chou’s celebrated film Diamond Island.

Other venues include the Legend cinemas all over town, the French Institute, Chaktomuk Theater, Bophana Center, Major Cineplex and Platinum Cineplex.

With a dizzying array of options to choose from, Post Weekend selected a few of the highlights from this year’s festival. A full schedule of the movies, performances and educational events can be found at www.cambodia-iff.com.

Opening Night

Poppy Goes to Hollywood opens the festival this Friday. Photo supplied
Poppy Goes to Hollywood opens the festival this Friday. Photo supplied

The festival kicks off with a free outdoor screening of Sok Visal’s Poppy Goes to Hollywood, last year’s gender-bending comedy in which a transphobic man, Mony, must hide his identity by dressing as a woman after witnessing a murder in Phnom Penh. Opening the show will be performances from Visal’s hip-hop collective KlapYaHandz. The free screening is open to the public and, despite having just one thousand chairs available, there is no limit to audience size. This one is likely to be packed.

The opening begins at 5:30pm and is expected to last until 9:30pm on Friday evening.

Kids’ Animation Night

Little Shimajiro is part of a cartoon series aimed at children. Photo supplied
Little Shimajiro is part of a cartoon series aimed at children. Photo supplied

A common refrain from local parents is that there aren’t very many activities for children around the city. The CIFF is here to help with its Cartoon of the World series, a selection of animated shorts that are especially for kids.

These will include the Italian film Hoblio The Path to Freedom, the story of a pilgrim traveling through the forest who encounters a group of strange characters; La Lutte, a Singaporean short; Little Shimajiro, a Japanese film about a “tiger boy” whose curiosity gets him into trouble with the other forest animals; The Old Man and the Pears, an American short film about a boy who helps a beggar after he is rejected by others; and Light Sight, an unusual Iranian film about an unidentifiable creature attracted by a strange red light. For adult animation lovers, there will also be a collection of animated shorts as well as several feature-length animated films.

Cartoons of the World for kids will be showing multiple times throughout the festival. Check the full schedule for times and locations.

Cambodian Feature-length Films
It’s been a momentous year for Cambodian cinema, and the festival is a unique opportunity to show off the movies produced in the Kingdom. The lineup is a testament to what continues to work for local productions – namely comedies and horror films – but each of them has a few wrinkles, and production values continue to improve.

One of the biggest films of the year, Jimmy Henderson’s Jailbreak, broke barriers with a blockbuster-meets-“B”-movie style action plot. Vikaljaret, by Huy Valeng, is an exploration of crime and mental illness, while Love 2 The Power of 4, by Sothea Ines, plumbs the trials of dating in Cambodia. Meanwhile, Douglas Seok will be showing the local premier of his film Turn Left, Turn Right, an experimental film set in contemporary Cambodia, on Saturday at Major Cineplex.

See the schedule for a full list of local feature films and the screening times. As the main attractions, most will air multiple times throughout the festival.

The Laotian Series

The Lao feature film Dearest Sister by Mattie Do. Photo supplied
The Lao feature film Dearest Sister by Mattie Do. Photo supplied

The mostly undiscovered repertoire of Laotian cinema is limited, but CIFF will showcase some of the country’s most dynamic talents with three feature-length films as well as a selection of shorts by up-and-coming filmmakers. Dearest Sister (2016) by Mattie Do is the story of a country girl who travels to the capital city, Vientiane, to care for her wealthy cousin but gains the supernatural ability to communicate with the dead. The marriage of her cousin to a shady Estonian expatriate further thickens the plot.

Meanwhile, Anysay Keola’s Above It All (2016) tells the story of two protagonists, a man and woman both named Noy who face different identity crises. On the one hand, the film broaches the emotional conflict of a gay man’s turmoil over whether to reveal his sexuality to his highly traditional parents, while for the woman, her Hmong ethnicity forces her to confront social stigmas surrounding who she may or may not marry.

Also screened at CIFF is one of the few “classics” of Lao cinema: Red Lotus (1988). Set in 1975 during the last days of the US-backed royal government during the Vietnam War, the film is a love story. Khammanh loves a woman named Boa Deng, but her stepfather opposes the romance and pushes her to marry within her village while Khammanh is off fighting the war. Once Khammanh returns, drama ensues. Red Lotus has been praised for its accuracy in depicting Lao society, especially with regard to Lao social norms under the monarchy.

The feature-length films will run throughout the week while a series of short films from Lao will screen at Legend Cinemas – City Mall on Monday at 8pm.

Drakkar Band

Rock ’n’ roll legends Drakkar Band will play on Diamond Island on Tuesday. Photo supplied
Rock ’n’ roll legends Drakkar Band will play on Diamond Island on Tuesday. Photo supplied

The festival serves not only as a platform to highlight international and Cambodian films, but also as a stage for Cambodian musicians, both young and old, including the legendary Drakkar Band, whose 1974 release was at the time the country’s all-time best seller.

First formed in 1967, the band quickly became known locally for their unique sound, which was influenced by both Western rock bands like Santana and Led Zeppelin, as well as other pioneering Cambodian rock bands in the 1960s.

Despite the deaths of two of the band’s members at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Drakkar has reemerged since the release of Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, a documentary about the “golden era” of Cambodian rock ’n’ roll.

The legendary Drakkar Band will perform on Tuesday at 6pm at Koh Pich. The performance will be followed by a screening of the “Cambodia in Short” series.

Special Gala Screening: Asian Three-Fold Mirror: Reflection

Beyond the Bridge by Sotho Kolikar is showing on Wednesday. Photo supplied
Beyond the Bridge by Sotho Kolikar is showing on Wednesday. Photo supplied

A coproduction by the Japan Foundation Asia Center and the Tokyo International Film Festival, this special gala screening will feature three works melded together on the theme “Living in Asia”. The works, Shinuma Dead Horse by Brillante Ma Mendoza, Pigeon by Isao Yukisuda, and Beyond the Bridge by Sotho Kulikar depict the lives of characters whose travels take them between Japan, Cambodia, the Phillipines and Malaysia. Each short runs for about 20 minutes, and will reunite actors, directors and festival directors on the concept of bringing Asian people closer together. The Japan Foundation’s support for the project stems from the 2015 Cambodian Oscar submission The Last Reel being screened at the festival two years ago.

The Asian Three-fold Mirror: Reflection event will be held at Chaktomuk Theatre on Wednesday at 6pm.


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