​2015: Year in Review | Phnom Penh Post

2015: Year in Review

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Publication date
26 December 2015 | 08:04 ICT

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More than 20 Cambodian artists' work was exhibited during the Lille 300 festival in France. Photo supplied

Dana Langlois, Owner of JavaArts

Overall for the arts, there’s been a lot of activity happening outside of Cambodia this year. As many people have said, we’ve had this incredible energy and growth for quite a while, but it hit an apex recently – it seems to have become less concentrated in the past year or two, where you have a lot of artists going outside the country.

There were three large events that had quite a big impact on the international presence of Cambodian artists. The Singapore government collaborated with the French government to bring exhibitions and events by quite a few Southeast Asian artists, including Cambodians, to France.

Then you had the Lille 3000 Renaissance, which was a big international event that focused on cities going through a rebirth of culture or creativity, for which Christian Caujolle curated a show of 20 or so artists from Cambodia.

Three artists from Cambodia were also invited to Asia Pacific Trinennial in Queensland, Australia. A lot of Cambodian artists were also invited to participate in international residency programs, such as the one through CLA where three artists went to the US to work in Vermont and then on to New York.

But I feel that as it grew abroad, it went quiet here at home. Art gallery Romeet’s closing left a huge gap in the scene as well as the official closing of the Our City Festival. It feels in many ways like something is just smouldering.

A fire destroyed a JavaArts office in October as well as 150 artworks. Scott Howes

For me, we lost the JavaArts gallery space; then we moved artwork to our office, which burned down and lost 150 artworks – which was extremely devastating.

But then The Boat arts hub project came along, which is going to be an incredible opportunity to create a new space for incubating creativity, presenting works and creating a broader dialogue for Cambodian, Southeast Asian artists and visitors from abroad.

Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank

Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy's dinner 'selfie' surprised many in July. Photo supplied

This year was the year of the so-called "culture of dialogue", the high-point of which was the selfie dinner between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen. It seems so long ago now. It was the strangest moment. I didn’t know what to make of it. And the Khmer New Year when they went to Siem Reap together, and started to refer to each other as almost a family.

That was really interesting. I’m not sure if that’s a highlight, but it’s gone downhill as swiftly as it started. There hardly seemed to be any real plan or strategy to that – some individuals wanted to get close up and it was love overkill.

The sad reality is that none of it is surprising, it’s just a sign how bad politics has become. The beatings of the MPs right in front of the National Assembly was definitely the lowest point. It’s never happened before.

That is going to be difficult to overcome. The damage is done, blood was spilled. The removal of Kem Sokha from his National Assembly parliamentary position, he didn’t really have much power, so that doesn’t really matter.

But now, towards the end of year, there’s starting to be a different kind of “culture of dialogue” with Kem Sokha. Hun Sen seems to think he can play him and Sam Rainsy to get them to disagree or fracture.

Director Kulikar Sotho's critically acclaimed debut feature The Last Reel, featuring actress Ma Rynet, hit cinemas in September. Photo supplied

Now he’s looking at how he can deal with Kem Sokha, who is the acting head while Rainsy’s out of the country.

I don’t know what else Hun Sen is going to pull, but his plan might be to propel Kem Sokha to the leadership of the opposition and sideline Sam Rainsy altogether.

Chhay Bora, president of the Motion Picture Association of Cambodia

For the film industry, 2015 was not very good. Audiences for Cambodian films dropped 50 per cent even as the number of films produced increased. In 2014, Cambodian filmmakers produced 14 feature films, but in 2015 that number rose to 25.

I think Cambodian audiences lost confidence in Cambodian content. The audience for the foreign films – like Hollywood and Thai films – actually increased by 170 per cent. The quality of Cambodian films is still not very good.

The stories are badly made by junk producers coming into the market who don’t understand the important elements of film. They just want to make movies and copy from each other – they see a horror film make good money so they make more horror films.

Archaeologists excavate a site to learn about day-to-day life at Angkor. Photo supplied

The directors, they don’t have enough experience making films; they come into the industry but don’t care about quality – they focus on famous stars or comedians and pay very high for them.

So far this year, I think there have been only one or two good films released. Even the high-quality films, like The Last Reel, didn’t perform well commercially.

The highest-grossing film this year was a horror film, the English translation is No One in the Village. For the cinema industry to grow more healthy, we need to attract older people by expanding the genres of the films – we cannot stay with horror and comedy.

In other countries, a big portion of audiences are 25 to 40 year olds who have disposable incomes. On a brighter note, our short filmmakers made some good films like Somchanrith Chap’s A Fistful of Pebbles.

I hope in 2016, the new wave will make good features.

Alison Carter, Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney

I’m biased, but I think the work of the Greater Angkor Project – a collaboration between the Apsara Authority, the University of Sydney – and the EFEO, has been exciting and important in that it is adding new dimensions and changing ideas about the Angkorian Empire. 

I think most people come to Cambodia with old ideas about Angkor that are largely based on historic documents and studies that were limited to the temples themselves.

Recent archaeological research has been able to add a lot more depth and nuance to our understandings of the empire.

Cuisine Wat Damnak was in March named one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. TERENCE CARTER

For example, many people visit Angkor Wat and it seems timeless and sterile, but now we are learning more about the presence of earlier buried towers, based on work by Till Sonnemann; David Brotherson has been studying post-Angkorian fortification modifications; Miriam Stark, Heng Piphal, Chhay Rachna and I have been looking at evidence for residential occupation within the Angkor Wat enclosure; and Damian Evans and Roland Fletcher have been looking more closely at the Lidar data and the landscape around Angkor Wat, which was heavily modified.

There’s a lot more to Angkor Wat than meets the eye, and this is just one temple among hundreds in the Angkor region.

There is still so much more research to be done! Although the cave site of Laang Spean isn’t as sexy as Angkor, I think the work being done there is quite important for helping us understand an early hunter-gatherer population of Cambodia.

It is also an important site in the history of Southeast Asian Archaeology, as it was originally studied in the 1960s but has been re-investigated by Heng Sophady of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and Hubert Forestier from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris.

Luu Meng, Restaurateur

Australian-owned bar and eatery Che Culo made an impact in 2015. Eli Meixler

I think 2015 was a very interesting year – very different in a good way – for Cambodia's hotels and restaurants. It was a year the industry concentrated on quality. We had a very special new resort open up in Siem Reap – Phum Baitong.

The first Starbucks opened at the Phnom Penh airport. I opened a new seafood restaurant, Seven Seas, and am about to open my French restaurant Topaz at a new location.

My favourite restaurant [run by someone else] this year was Cuisine Wat Damnak. Owner-chef Joannès Rivière is really passionate about what he’s doing.

The Ministry of Tourism has this year also been working with the industry on training workers to a higher standard but also marketing Cambodia overseas as a place that has high-quality experiences.

People know that Cambodia has lots of budget and good-value options, but this year was about promoting the high-quality options too. Some people expect quality, some value.

Some people go by motorbike, bicycle or car. So you always need to have a selection available.

Paul Mathew, drinks consultant

The Phnom Penh drinks scene continues to evolve and develop at pace, with new venues opening – and in some cases closing – with astonishing speed. Although it opened at the end of 2014, I think 2015 has seen Che Culo making an impact and influencing the Phnom Penh cocktail scene.

It’s busy, has a great atmosphere and some of the best cocktails in town, all done without fuss or pretence. 

This year has also seen a lot of new products arrive on the market, from small batch gins – as exhibited at Phnom Penh’s first Gin Jubilee – through to some great rums and whiskies that have appeared behind the better bars in town. 

Two opposition lawmakers were savagely beaten outside the National Assembly in October. Photo supplied

Samai Distillery's Thursday nights have become somewhat legendary, certainly among the drinks industry, and their Cambodian rum has found legs and made it to a select few bars and restaurants. 

You can’t mention Phnom Penh and bars without talking about Bassac Lane, which has seen the arrival of Harry’s in 2015.

It’s firmly established the 308 area as the go-to drinking destination, something that will probably continue into 2016 with the arrival of even more venues at the beginning of the new year.

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