Angkor photo festival returns to former glory

Angkor photo festival returns to former glory

THE Angkor Photo Festival is certainly back in action, headquartered in a funky new building provided by the well-heeled festival director, long-time local Jean-Yves Navel, on Siem Reap’s newly emerging strip, Riverside, also known as East River Road.

At present, the nerve-centre’s interior is bare and unadorned; the only furnishings are a couple of rudimentary tables, some chairs and computers. Soon it will be a riot of posters, colour, art and photos and it will be buzzing but right now, the only thing buzzing is Francoise Callier, the festival’s programme director. She’s busy, busy, busy and urgently flits from the building to the little restaurant-cum-café next door for a shot of black coffee and a fag. In between smoky drags, with typically quaint French haughtiness, she announces that she cannot take time out to discuss the highlights of this year’s festival because she is too busy actually organising this year’s event.

Mais oui, but of course.

All I need to know, she tells me, is on the festival’s website, and who’s to argue with Callier? She waves me off, saying that she has not one, but two emergencies to deal with.

Ay yes, it’s good to see that Callier is back. She’s in fine form and obviously this year’s festival in firm hands.

And certainly the rocky year that was 2009 has been dismissed with the impatient wave of a hand, gone in a puff of Callier’s smoke.

Last year, it was a case of the festival that wasn’t a festival. The shock waves of the global financial crisis had hit hard, sponsorship declined, and festival organisers were reeling.

Mid-last year, the festival’s general co-coordinator, Camille Plante, she of the seductive French femininity combined with the relentlessness of Gallic bureaucracy, quit. She posted a notice on the web that the 2009 festival had been cancelled, and then not long after cancelled her resignation and was back on the job.

There were rumours that there had been no money to pay Plante, rumours that organisers had fallen foul of Siem Reap’s civil authorities over censorship issues involving a slide show at FCC Angkor that was visible to the many Khmer people who gathered on the footpaths to watch.

None of this was either confirmed or denied by festival organisers and director Jean-Yves Navel informed The Post that, au contraire to Plante’s web post that the festival had been cancelled, the event was to proceed, although in a cut-down version.

It was all a matter of semantics. Traditionally, the Angkor Photo Festival has two components: an educational component involving serious workshops for the young photographers of tomorrow; and a festive aspect of launches, openings, parties and celebrations.

Given the demands of austerity, last year the festive side was cancelled but the workshops went ahead quite successfully.

But this year, the full show is back on the road. The workshops are there again, as is the festive component, which has been reinvigorated and ramped up. This year far more venues and locations are involved.

The 2010 expanded program, running from November 20 to November 27, includes 14 exhibitions, seven evenings of outdoor slideshows, a children’s day in a pagoda and a book launch.

As with the 2008 festival, most of the action will be centered on FCC Angkor, where the opening and closing parties will take place, as well as a number of outdoor slideshows.

Other venues range from cafés to galleries to nightspots. Venues include the Blue Pumpkin café, the Angkor Hospital for Children, the Angkor Photo Gallery on Riverside, the McDermott Gallery, the Art’s Lounge at Hotel de la Paix, the edgy Hip Hop Club and the Angkor National Museum.

A new and commendable feature this year is the expansion into outdoor venues other than the forecourt of FCC Angkor. Outdoor exhibitions will also be held at Raffles Garden, Bopha’s Terrace and the Old Market Bridge.

Holding an exhibition on the bridge is a great idea – it has a vague old-Parisian feel to it and of course it’s also a major thoroughfare, so it will help bring the festival to the people, especially Khmer people, and also help dispel the notion that the festival is just a big bash for a champagne swilling barang in-crowd.

Obviously this year’s return to its former glory marks the exciting transition of the festival into an occasion that is truly for the people.

The Phnom Penh Post will also continue its tradition of comprehensive coverage of all events at the festival as they unfold, with day-to-day reports of exhibitions set to be published during the event.

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