A festival celebrating more than 100 years of cinematic glory came to an end last night at Chaktomuk Theatre, after uniting hundreds of Cambodians in appreciation of international silver screen classics.
Organised by Bophana Audiovisual Centre in conjunction with the France-based NGO Technicolor Foundation, the nine-day Memory! film festival showcased local and foreign films by filmmakers ranging from Georges Méliès to late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
In the spirit of heritage, the films were mostly screened in the Chaktomuk Theatre on Sisowath Quay, which was designed by acclaimed Khmer architect Vann Molyvann in the 1960s.
Thanks to additions made for the festival, the theatre is now equipped with 35mm projectors that can be used for future screenings.
Séverine Wemaere, founder of Technicolor, said the festival exceeded expectations. “This is a country where there is very little access to film heritage and films on large screens. I wouldn’t say there’s a need for it – that would be arrogant – but once you put [Cambodians] in the situation, they are curious, and they want more.”
The festival attracted Cambodians young and old, as well as delegations from 16 countries – and King Norodom Sihamoni, who attended the opening screening of one of his father’s films.
According to co-organiser Giles Duval, from French heritage non-profit Groupama Gan Foundation, each film brought in about 200 people. “Sometimes, we had maybe 40 or 50, but sometimes we had 300 or 400,” he added.
There are plans to repeat the festival next year in Cambodia, Wemaere said, using the quantity of high-quality equipment which had been shipped over.
“We brought almost two tons of equipment by sea from France, because we don’t have enough money to buy new materials,” she said.
Chea Sopheap, an archivist and research analyst at Bophana, said the projectors will breathe new life into Chaktomuk Theatre.
“The structure is a very beautiful Khmer design, and one of the only historical buildings in Phnom Penh. We should remember and keep this building alive.”
So too, the lost works from the Cambodian “golden era” must be remembered, said Wemaere. “There were about 400 films made then, maybe more. But if you speak about the negatives that would allow us to make screenings here now, there are less than 10 remaining.
“Everyone must keep searching, and the filmmakers are not always here to ask. Some filmmakers went abroad with prints, some are still in the country. Even some high-end archives don’t know all of what they have in their collections.”
For Duval, Memory! is just the beginning.
“This festival is just a seed, and it needs water,” he said.