Cannes, Venice, Hollywood, step aside and make way. Siem Reap is the latest destination to become a movie Mecca, as the inaugural Angkor Wat Film Festival comes to town.
Posters for three movies screening at the Angkor Wat Film Festival – Milking The Rhino, Soul Surfer and Climate Refugees.
The Sofitel Resort will screen 31 films from February 17 to 19, welcoming guests and visitors to the viewings for free. Showing from 1pm to 11pm and including both shorts and features, all schedules and attention spans will be catered for.
The festival is the work of Emmy-awarding winning filmmaker, Tom Vendetti. Vendetti, who lives in Maui, Hawaii, said he was encouraged to bring a festival to Siem Reap by newspaper publisher Bernie Krisher. “I had met Bernie several years ago after working with him building a school in Cambodia,” he said.
“This is the first international film festival in Cambodia with the primary goal of preserving culture and the environment”.
With this idea in mind, most of the films on the program carry an element of environmental or cultural awareness, like Climate Refugees, which explores the impact of climate change on society, or Kipuka, a detailed study of Hawaii’s cultural identity.
“Siem Reap appeared to be the ideal setting for our event considering the monuments and profound history in the area,” Vendetti said. “Also, ecotourism is taking off in Siem Reap, which is promoting the culture and preserving the environment.”
Along with the movies there will be opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers in the flesh and hear them discuss their work on the final night, at a poolside dinner showing of one of Vendetti’s own works, When The Mountain Calls; Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan.
Vendetti, who also works as a psychologist, said he brings his two passions together to create his style of filmmaking. “I try to combine my interest in psychology and filmmaking to explore wisdom presented in ancient cultures and share the wisdom to promote happiness.”
He said one of the highlights of the program will be the Opening Gala which will feature Soul Surfer, a highly acclaimed true story about teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. The toast of Cannes last year, the film follows Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack at just 13 but went on to become a professional surfer.
The festival is truly global, featuring films shot in Fiji (Vendetti’s Fiji Firewalkers), the Serengeti (Milking The Rhino) and Iceland (Dreamland) to name but a few.
But of course, the host country takes centre stage with a number of Cambodian-made or based productions.
Born Sweet by Cynthia Wade is an award-winning documentary about a Khmer teen poisoned by arsenic who dreams of being a karaoke star.
Years of Darkness is another film by Vendetti, which tells of story of Sam Khong. After fighting for the Vietcong as a young teen, Khong was marooned in the US when the Khmer Rouge took power. The film follows him on his return to his birthplace in Cambodia almost thirty years later.
And no Cambodian film festival would be complete without the Kingdom’s own iconic filmmaker, Norodom Sihanouk. Two of the King Father’s works will be shown, La Cité Mystérieuse and Une Paysanne En Détresse. The latter, Peasants in Distress, is a love triangle set against the backdrop of war, political upheaval and UN intervention in the early 90s. Mysterious City was shot in 1988 during his time in exile.
The King Father is in good company. Many of the films in the festival have received accolades and acclaim. For a town with no formal cinema, the notion of becoming a destination for touring top films will be a hit with locals. As for the organisers, they’re hoping the Angkor Wat Film Festival will put Siem Reap on the map for more than just its temples.