The 12th Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF), scheduled from May 30 to June 4, is set to captivate audiences and filmmakers alike with a diverse selection of 144 films from 34 countries.

The highly anticipated event not only celebrates the art of filmmaking but also serves as a platform to promote the local film industry, but aims to attract foreign productions to the vibrant and culturally rich nation.

Cedric Eloy, director of the festival, met with the press on May 24 at the Rosewood in Phnom Penh.

“I want to highlight the diversity of the films we will screen at this year’s festival. They range from local films from the golden age of the 1960s and early 1970s, to films from Iran and Africa, and include top local producers and young actors, as well as veteran film stars,” he said.

“We will screen local films like Samuel Diaz Fernandez’s Little by Little, Xavier de Lauzanne’s The Perfect Motion, Un Bunthouern’s Wishing Lollipop, and Jimmy Henderson’s The Guardian and also hold a special screening of Matt Dillon’s City of Ghosts for the closing ceremony,” he added.

He added that other films with a strong Cambodian connection included Three Brothers by Chanrado Sok, The Taste of Secrets by Guillaume Suon and some films that had premiered in the wider world, like Davy Chou’s Return to Seoul and Louis Garrel’s The Innocent.

One highlight for young audiences will be the “horror night”, which will show terrifying films from 6.00pm to 4.00am at Eden Garden.

This year’s festival promises a wide range of exciting programmes. One of many highlights is the newly established Cinema Village, at Olympia Mall. It will offer unique experience that brings together industry professionals, film enthusiasts, and the general public, according to Pok Borak, director of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ Department of Film and Cultural Promotion.

International star power

Amidst the festival’s offerings, one name that stands out is Matt Dillon, honorary president of the CIFF. Dillon’s connection with Cambodia dates back to 2001 and 2002 when he filmed a feature that was initially known as Beneath the Banyan Trees, but later renamed City of Ghosts.

Despite initial concerns about the film’s title, Dillon’s explanation to the Cambodian government and his advocacy for the positive impact the film could have on the country led to its successful release.

“After an explanation, my producer explained about the change of title and the benefits this film would bring to Cambodia directly to the prime minister. The film received rave reviews,” he says.

This anecdote highlights the power of cinema in promoting a nation’s image and fostering cultural understanding.

“This is a film. While some people think the title hurts the image of Cambodia, it is art and instead it helped to promote Cambodia,” said Borak.

“Dillon supporting CIFF is an acknowledgement of the creative potential that Cambodia has and an encouragement for CIFF to develop its key role in promoting and supporting Cambodian films and international collaborations,” added Eloy.

Dillon, the director and star of City of Ghosts said the CIFF is incredibly important for Cambodian filmmakers and filmmakers throughout the world. He was thrilled to a part of this wonderful film festival.

Dillon was quoted as saying that “making ‘City of Ghost’ in Cambodia was one of the highlights of my life. Cambodia is a very special place to me. It’s such a fertile ground for creativity.”

“It’s really great to see that it’s really developed into a thriving film industry. I’m really looking forward to seeing what these young filmmakers come up with in the future,” he said.

Eloy also emphasised the significance of the Cinema Village at Olympia Mall, a central hub for film-related discussions involving directors, actors, and producers.

In addition to these stimulating exchanges, the village offers culinary delights and refreshments, creating a vibrant atmosphere that brings together the magic of cinema and the pleasures of indulging in diverse cuisines.

A return to the ‘Golden Age’

Renowned 1960s actress – and first Miss Cambodia – Dy Saveth, also met with the press on May 24. She reflected on her extensive acting career and the multitude of challenges she has faced.

Sharing her experiences, she emphasised the need for actors to immerse themselves in their roles, portraying real emotions and embracing diverse characters.

Saveth’s dedication to her craft was evident as she recounted her interactions with animals on set, including snakes and crocodiles, illustrating the level of commitment and fearlessness required in her performances.

“When I was acting alongside animals, particularly snakes and crocodiles in The Snake Girl, a tale centred on these creatures, I had to set aside my fear and courageously allow the snake to coil around my head. I even embraced a crocodile,” she told the rapt media.

Dy Saveth also expresses her joy at working with the younger generation of Cambodian actors. She was visiting her children who were studying in Bangkok when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, or would likely have perished at their hands, like so many other beloved actors, musicians and artists.

Now considered a national treasure, through her mentorship and guidance, she has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of Cambodian cinema, assisting young actors in navigating the complexities of scriptwriting, directing, and acting.

Mark Bochsler, director of the documentary Surviving Bokator, was also present at the media conference, and shared his excitement at having his film showcased twice during the festival.

This compelling documentary, produced over seven years captures the story of San Kim Sean, an elder who survived the Khmer Rouge era and preserved ancient Khmer martial art of Kun Lbokator. It highlights the resilience and cultural significance of this ancient practice.

“Bokator is not just a sport; it serves as a reflection of Cambodian culture, representing its unique identity,” explained Bochsler.

The documentary contributed to the martial arts’ recognition by UNESCO, who added it to the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, elevating Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage on the global stage.

Kon Sreynith, a filmmaker who graduated from the Bophana Centre’s Documentary Filmmaking Training Unit, said she has produced two documentaries that promote the importance of the rquality of women.

She evolved from a moviegoer to a filmmaker and discovered a lot about herself while studying at the Bophana Centre.

The 12th Cambodia International Film Festival serves as a testament to the country’s thriving film industry and its commitment to nurturing home-grown talent, while attracting international filmmakers.

By showcasing such diverse films and engaging in thought-provoking discussions, the festival contributes to cultural exchanges and strengthens the ties between Cambodia and the global film community.

“When we look back at the production of the film City of Ghosts in 2002, we faced significant challenges due to the lack of resources for film production. We had to rely on external sources for technical equipment and human resources, resulting in substantial financial losses,” said Borak.

“Since 2010, Cambodia has made significant strides in training a workforce and developing a solid infrastructure for film production. These efforts have been instrumental in attracting an increasing number of foreign filmmakers to the Kingdom,” he added.

“It serves as a testament to the growing recognition of Cambodia as a favourable destination for film production, offering unique settings and a rich cultural backdrop,” he said.

As the festival draws near, audiences eagerly anticipate the opportunity to immerse themselves in the magic of cinema and witness the remarkable stories that unfold on the big screen.