The Sixth Annual Cambodian International Film Festival Is a Hit
Despite my expressed vow to avoid writing during the holidays, I was so captivated by the sixth annual Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF) that I had to share with you my enthusiasm about the event, which was held in disparate Phnom Penh locations Dec. 4-10.
Not only was the festival organized with the precision of a three-star restaurant kitchen, but the quality of most of the films I caught was dazzling.
There reportedly were more than 130 from 34 countries in all, none costing more than $1 for admission, and I cannot explain why this was the first festival I’ve attended. Only jet lag and ignorance of the screenings kept me from seeing more than the eight or nine (four in one day!) that I caught last week.
Angela Jolie Pitt, who is making a film in northwestern Cambodia these days, was president of the CIFF honorary committee and made an appearance as chair of a panel on filmmaking in a role that was a secret not closely guarded.
After watching the terrific documentary Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock’n’ (which link, like others below, allows you to see the trailer), I resolved to see the group perform live that night. Unfortunately, other aspects of my life intervened, and I won’t have another chance until March.
The remarkable film begins in 2009, when Australian musician Julien Poulson heard Srey Thy singing in a karaoke bar, where not only beer is served. “The result,” goes the CIFF program, “is a thrilling musical explosion that wows audience worldwide with sounds from the 1960s and ’70s golden age of Cambodian rock.” The program continues:
Filmed over five years this intimate documentary tells the story of performers who struggle to overcome adversity, trauma and obscurity.
(In the event you are unaware, a particularly devastating impact of the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge starting in 1975 was to wipe out virtually all living artists, thereby creating a cultural vacuum until well after their devastating reign ended early in 1979.)
Inevitably, several other films had Khmer Rouge themes. One of them, Camp 32, affected me deeply. It documents the search by one Hom Chhorn for an unmarked area where he witnessed and was subject to unimaginable atrocities. Some 40,000 Cambodians of those who were forced to walk for days to and labor exhaustingly there died horrible deaths in that place alone.
Not so many of the films were so wrenching. I was charmed by Ilo Ilo, a Malaysian film about a young boy, his family and the nanny he grows to love.
I also was taken with Cambodian Son, Take Me to Dinner and, especially, Rites of Passage. As described by ABC, the justly acclaimed Rites is unconventional to the extreme. It was made according to 10 principles, among them:
1. The making of the film should help people living with hardship to build new futures;
2. All key actors must be amateurs and live in the community where the film is shot;
3. There can be no traditional script and there must be more than one story line;
4. The story lines must be developed with the actors, drawing on their life experiences.
None of the films I saw won the top award, but the director Chhay Bora’s “Lost Loves” feature received six commendations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writer, Best Lead Actress, Best Editor and Best Set Design. Released in 2010, “Lost Loves” is based on the true story of a mother under the Khmer Rouge. Bora’s wife Kauv Sotheary was cited for writing and acting.
I have been unable so far to unearth the titles of the winners of other awards, though I am sure that a couple of those I have mentioned had to have merited recognition. (Should I come across more information, I’ll update this post.)
According to a newspaper article, Cambodian films have a hard time getting shown in this country. Based on what was presented this year, I’d say that is a crying shame.
In any case, my hat goes off to the organizers, volunteers, including the entire honorary committee, and filmmakers. Following my experience this year, certainly I won’t miss the festival in 2016.
It is hard to say this too much, so once again, dear readers,
may your holidays be the happiest ever! See you next year.