The Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF) will finally return for its 11th edition from June 28 to July 3 this year following its cancellation due to the pandemic for the past two years.
Appropriately, the poster advertising the festival will feature an original painting called Just Born by Battambang-based artist Khchao Touch, which is meant to signify the rebirth of the film industry in Cambodia after it was shattered and left in pieces for two years while Covid-19 took its toll, with the virus causing disruption to society that was unprecedented in living memory.
CIFF has in past years been the most significant industry-driven film event in the Kingdom and one of the most prominent in Southeast-Asia, consistently. The organisers are, of course, hoping that it will be able to regain that position when it returns after two years of inactivity.
“The last 2 years have been hard for the entire creative sector, for artists and for cultural organisations. We want to acknowledge this and invite more support for all of the above,” said Cedric Eloy, director of CIFF, during his remarks at a press conference on May 25 at the Rosewood Phnom Penh hotel.
Organised by the Cambodia Film Commission and the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre with support from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, CIFF’s 11th edition will present a total of 140 high-quality films from over 40 countries on six continents, including feature-length films, short films, documentaries and animated films, according to Bophana Centre’s website.
CIFF was initially established as a catalyst for Cambodia’s film industry in 2010 and soon grew to be one of the largest international film and cultural events in the Kingdom.
“CIFF’s history began 12 years ago, at a time when the film industry was just starting with Bophana Centre being the only film organisation and just after the creation of the Cambodia Film Commission,” said Eloy.
Since its inception, the event has attracted more than 20,000 attendees. It also acts as a bridge between Cambodia and the world through the universal language of film and culture by showcasing local Cambodian productions and promoting those films’ circulation within the region and beyond.
“We believe that the film festival is an essential tool to show the progress of the industry and develop education through film. On that basis, it led to the opening of modern theatres that have provided inspiration to hundreds of young Cambodians to get involved in films and it has had a direct impact on attracting foreign films to Cambodia,” Eloy said.
The festival has brought prominent films to the Kingdom for screening and it has featured guests from Cambodia and abroad with a focus on inspiring audiences with the diversity of films, promoting innovative international filmmaking in various formats and presenting high-quality productions made in and about Cambodia by both national and international filmmakers.
Since 2015, the festival has incorporated a special selection of films on the environment and climate action and this year will be no different.
CIFF screenings take place in the highest-quality cinemas in Phnom Penh and this year there are 10 venues and over 160 screenings of over 130 films. The festival also emphasises that it has permission or rights secured for all of the films it shows and despite Cambodia’s past issues concerning copyright, it is always fully respected by CIFF.
“Today, it is our hope and it would be our greatest pleasure that this year the CIFF brings together again all of the creative forces and awakens again the joy of the big silver screen. The 11th edition will play a vital role in kick-starting the engine of the cinema industry once again,” Eloy said.
This year audiences will be able to enjoy free admission to all screenings in Phnom Penh including those at Legend Cinemas, Major Cineplex (Aeon 1, Sorya), French Institute, Bophana Centre, Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Rosewood Phnom Penh, Java Creative and Factory Phnom Penh.
Eloy observed that CIFF had been gaining in popularity every year prior to the pandemic but now with its return it will need additional support if it continues to grow and they are looking for more sponsors from both the private and non-profit sectors to work with in addition to the support already received from UNESCO and the Australian embassy along with the cooperation and encouragement the festival gets from the ministries of tourism, information and education.
“Making CIFF happen has always been very challenging and it could not have been possible without the support and love of our team, our partners, our friends and the organisations that have encouraged us through their support, help and advice to create this unique event for Cambodia and the Cambodian people,” Eloy said.
This year there will be a special added focus on Australian cinema to celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Cambodia, according to the Bophana Centre.
Sopheap Chea, director of the Bophana Centre, traced the roots of cinema culture in Cambodian society to the 1940’s and 50’s. It then became a prominent aspect of modern Cambodian culture in the 1960’s and early 70’s before it was abolished, sadly, by the Khmer Rouge under their “Year Zero” philosophy of forcing the culture and civilisation to start over with an ensuing genocide.
“Though cinema was disrupted and destroyed during the Khmer Rouge, we now can see that young people will always rediscover the love for the art of filmmaking and expressing themselves through motion pictures.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a huge and substantial impact on this important part of culture in Cambodia and also across the world. In Cambodia, cinema and cultural activities were closed down and later restricted for almost two years. So, we are excited to bring back to audiences the biggest film event in Cambodia once again this year,” Sopheap said during his press conference remarks.
After the Covid situation had improved and life began to return to normal again, movie theatres in Cambodia were permitted to operate at 50 per cent capacity under stricter standard operating procedures aimed at preventing infections in March, 2022, after a two-year closure.
According to Pok Borak, director of the culture ministry’s Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department, the change in policies is the direct result of the government’s extensive efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the Kingdom reaching the point where it had days with zero new infections confirmed.
“Observing the serious impact [the pandemic had] on the film industry, the Royal Government of Cambodia, with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts as its executive, has worked to address the industry’s challenges and provide incentives to filmmakers, such suspensions of tax obligations, exemption on all types of monthly taxes for three months and salary allowance for cinema staff during the past 2 years,” Borak said.
In early May, the culture ministry requested from the national leadership that the cinemas be able to operate their businesses at full capacity, which was then approved following a long period with zero infections or very few daily infections detected.
“On behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department is very pleased that the board of directors of the CIFF has decided to bring back this major film festival to Cambodia again this June. We hope that the CIFF’s return will help revive the spirit of the Cambodian film industry,” Borak told The Post.
The complete programme for the 11th edition of CIFF will be announced later in June. More information can be found at: