The curtains came down on the 12th edition of the Chaktomuk Short Film Festival as it reached its conclusion on October 30. Young and promising filmmakers claimed the spotlight, not just earning awards, but also illuminating the path ahead for the Cambodian film industry.

The Phnom Penh festival featured a remarkable showcase of 48 local and international short films. An eclectic audience of judges, filmmakers, actors, partners and members of the public were treated to an abundance of creativity and took note of the potential exhibited by each of the participating filmmakers.

The closing ceremony, presided over by Hab Touch, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, gave him the opportunity to recognise and commend the ingenuity on display.

“Each year, the productions have become increasingly imaginative. I applaud the filmmakers for their genuine talent in crafting exceptional short films,” he said.

He recognises the festival as a pivotal foundation for the nation’s emerging filmmakers, highlighting the role it has played in enhancing their skills since its inception.

Recognition at the event extends beyond mere accolades, with cash prizes and commendations awarded across various categories.

Leading the way was “Now What?”. Directed by Chong Sievphin and produced by Jeremiah Overman, it delved into the complexities of adolescence. It clinched the award for best Cambodian short film, along with a cash prize of 4 million riel ($1,000).

The film examines the turbulent teenage years of the character Peace Chong, who grapples with doubts and familial trust, navigating a sea of uncertainty.

A crucial moment unfolds during a routine car journey with his father, as Peace seeks answers through an open and candid conversation. However, his father’s revelations, meant to provide guidance, reveal uncomfortable truths about their family and society. These revelations grant Peace newfound clarity and a deeper understanding of his past uncertainties.

Director Sievphin Chon, expressed his excitement at winning the award.

“Self-belief is pivotal. If we don’t believe in ourselves, no one will,” he said.

Additional films that were singled out for special praise by the judging panel included “The Pen,” “The Door Knocker,” “Erased,” and an international entry “I Promise You Paradise”.

Chum Sothea, a member of the local jury, offered insights into the evaluation process.

“Short films serve as a filmmaker’s business card. They must encapsulate a personal touch, mirroring the identity of the filmmakers, particularly the director and their core team,” he explained.

He appreciated the depth and skill evident in this year’s award-winning productions, and expressed his optimism about increased participation from young filmmakers in future editions of the festival.

He noted that the jury commended the second-place winner, “The Pen,” for its well-executed writing and effective story management.

“In the case of “Erased,” the filmmaker weaves a profoundly personal narrative, highlighting her resilience and creative problem-solving in confronting personal hurdles. The film distinguishes itself through its innovative technique,” he said.

“We aim to inspire budding filmmakers through our recognition of excellence, motivating them to create authentic and sincere narratives,” he added.

Sothea looked forward to an even greater number of young filmmakers participating in the following year, propelling the local film production industry to fresh heights.

“I extend my thanks to everyone involved for turning this event into a beacon that inspires the next generation of moviemakers. You are all contributing to the growth of Cambodian films and increasing public support for our home-grown industry,” said Sum Sithen, the festival’s president.

First held in 2012, the festival has been a stalwart supporter of the Kingdom’s film industry.

Despite challenges presented by Covid-19, the event was able to make a smooth transition to an online platform during the brief period of social restrictions at the height of the pandemic, illustrating the unwavering commitment of the organisers to highlighting local cinematic talent.

The Chaktomuk Short Film Festival has solidified its position as a cornerstone of the Cambodian film industry, ensuring brighter prospects with each subsequent edition.