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The Act of Killing will be one of the first films to be screened using the French Institute’s new digital projector. Photo supplied

French Institute’s cinema goes digital

Mini film festival curated by Rithy Panh to show off new technology at cultural centre

Sovann Vannara, long-serving projectionist at the French Institute, is excited to show off his new toy – a state of the art digital projector.

Vannara first learned to project films on 35mm film, but he isn’t overly nostalgic for the old technology. “35mm is exhausting,” he said. “You had to stick all the different parts together, then you had to push the machine.” With digital projection, things are easier: “You put it in the projector and it’s all done – no cutting and gluing.”

The projector is an exciting arrival for the rest of the French Institute staff as well, and one that launches a significant expansion of the centre’s cultural programming.

“A way to get influence and a way to develop interest for French culture is through cinema,” said Cecile Peyronnet, cultural attaché to the Institute.

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Rithy Panh is getting carte blanche to screen whatever films he likes at the cinema. Afp

In recent years, films at the French Institute have been shown using simple home-projection equipment.

The new digital package provides for surround sound, improved light and a significantly sharper image. “You have the same quality as a screen in, for instance, [Major] Cineplex,” said Peyronnet.

Peyronnet is hoping that the state of the art facilities will encourage audiences to watch more independent cinema. If their impressive launch series is anything to go by, it’s a target they shouldn’t struggle to meet.

Between the 17th and 20th of September, the Institute will be screening a carte blanche programme curated by celebrated filmmaker Rithy Panh.

The Panh-picked series will screen under the umbrella of Acts of Memory: a program commemorating the 40th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh, coordinated by Seasons of Cambodia and encompassing the Bophana Centre, Cambodian Living Arts and now the French Institute.

The six films chosen for screening (there is one surprise yet to be announced) all emphasise the importance of documentary making as an act of memory.

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Projectionist Sovann Vannara with his new toy. Kimberley McCosker

In Joshua Oppenheimer’s haunting duo The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, the director confronts killers from the Indonesian genocide about their past.

Two films from Chilean director Patricio Guzmán: Salvador Allende and The Pinochet Case document the country’s two famous leaders.

Rithy Panh’s own The Missing Picture and France is Our Homeland will also be screened.

Peyronnet quotes Guzmán when asked about the significance of the series: “A country without documentaries is like a family without a photo album.”

Sann Vanna, who coordinates events related to the Acts of Memory program, said that it was through events such as the documentary screenings that the nebulous concepts of historical and collective memory could find definition.

“We talk about historical memory and [people ask] ‘what is that? How is that different from my memory every day?’” he said.

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Inside the French Institute cinema. Kimberley McCosker

“I think it’s through events that those concepts become clearer.”

The carte blanche screenings will be followed by Q&As, including a Skype conversation between Oppenheimer and Panh following The Look of Silence.

Once that series has concluded, more Q&A events with local film buffs are scheduled for the Institute’s newly launched ciné club.

But Peyronnet was quick to point out that intellectual stimulation won’t be the cinema’s only pursuit.

In October, they will be screening the much-anticipated Minions movie, because the little yellow creatures were initially conceived of (and voiced) by a Frenchman, Pierre Coffin.

“Of course, we are proud of it,” Peyronnet said, laughing. “In general, we are very proud of our animated movies. The French school is very well known.”

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