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Boat picture show gives Phnom Penh a spectacle

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Promenaders on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay enjoyed a floating picture show last weekend.

Six boats projecting the latest work of local and international photographers graced the Tonle Sap river after sunset last weekend, in a hallmark described by its creators as “magical”. 

Those enjoying an evening promenade along Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay enjoyed the free visual display thanks to the Institut Francais du Cambodge.

Each boat was fixed with its own 4x3 metre screen for the 2011 Festival PhotoPhnomPenh.

The screens were held above each boat by a sturdy frame wired tightly to their deck. Generators powered the projectors while the captains of each vessel slowly steered them single-file upstream.

The projections could only be viewed when the boats were headed upstream. Six times each evening, the captains hurriedly sailed their boats downstream only to gracefully steer them in slow motion upstream once more.  

“This has never been done before,” said festival director Christian Caujolle.

“It’s a world first to have the idea to project images off floating boats. They tried to copy the idea in Paris, but they couldn’t because of the all bridges and the wind. We are very lucky here in Phnom Penh. We have the city right next to the river, so we can do it.”

Caujolle and his co-worker Kor Borin introduced the spectacle in 2008 for the first year of the now annual Festival PhotoPhnomPenh. The week-long festival is now in its fourth consecutive year.

The idea was sparked after discussions on how to get local Cambodian people to partake in the festival.  

“They couldn’t get Khmers into an art gallery, so they thought ‘If they do not go to the exhibition, the exhibition will go to them’,” one of the festival organisers, Francois Allain said.

With that mindset, Caujolle and Kor set out to find a way of reaching the largest audience possible out in the Kingdom’s capital.

It wasn’t long until they agreed on the Tonle Sap river along Sisowath Quay.

“The river has traditionally been one of the most important parts of the city. We saw it as a lot of public space where families, locals and tourists could leisurely enjoy the show.”

The boats plied the river for a test run on Thursday night and the official projections started on Friday and carried through to Sunday night.

The photos will continue to be displayed at 20 other locations across Phnom Penh until December 2.

“In the past, the boat projections ran through the entire week, but we found there were less people during the week and they became expensive to run,” Allain said.

“This year we decided to do it over the weekend only when there were more people on the riverside to mark the opening of the festival.”

Caujolle hoped the boats had created a measure of surprise, pleasure and emotion for onlookers.

“I thought of it as information poetry. It provided information about the festival, photographers and the content of their work. It was poetry because it was just beautiful with the boats floating up and down the river and the reflection of the city lights.

“We all deserve to have pleasure, surprise, information and courtship, and I think the boats provided that.”

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