On February 24 at the French Institute, the European Film Festival – which screens award winning European feature films in Phnom Penh – was revived after being absent since 2014.

A panel discussion was held in order to provide insightful information regarding the festival to the audience with a question and answer session. Afterwards food and drinks were served and the festival’s first film Perfumes was shown.

Nicolaus Mesterharm – the founder of the Cambodian-German cultural centre Meta House – was the event’s moderator and three panellists participated: Tihamer Czika, deputy head of mission of the European Union delegation to Cambodia; Cedric Eloy, the founder of the Cambodian International Film Festival and Sok Visal, founder of KlapYaHandz.

Between February 24 and March 1 a collection of 21 films across a variety of genres were shown in order to bring a taste of European culture to Phnom Penh. With feature films screened at three locations across the capital – the French Institute, Meta House and Major Cineplex at Aeon Mall 1.

Starting on the February, 24 and culminating on March, 1 a collection of 21 films across a variety of genres were shown to bring a taste of European culture to Phnom Penh. With feature films screened at three locations across the capital — the French Institute, Meta House and Major Cineplex (Aeon Mall 1).

“Most European films face difficulties in accessing Asian markets and film festivals like this are essential in promoting our wonderful cinema. It has been missing in Cambodia for many reasons due to copyright issues as well as the limited capacity of the EU Delegation to Cambodia but I think the quality of the 21 films will truly compensate,” says Czika.

Czika says European films bring a huge diversity of stories and that one will find in this festival dramas, comedies, romantic films, documentaries and even movies for children – shown with the hope that they will bring the countries of Europe and their people closer to Cambodia.

“Films presented this year come from 22 different EU Member States and some other European countries. They cover every corner of Europe – north, south, east and west – and show both the problems and joys of life. Many of them are co-productions between several European countries. Let’s hope it will be a successful ‘relaunch’ and we are looking forward to making this an annual event,” he says.

While the settings of many of these films are quite different from Cambodia it is still easy to relate to most of them and in many ways the characters face the same problems and want the same opportunities in life, according to Czika.

Czika says that when they started to discuss bringing back the European film festival he got mixed responses. Some said they were totally up for it while some said that European films are very heavy and difficult to watch and that it’s just not the right time.

(From left to right) Panel discussion Visal, Eloy, Mesterharm, Czika. CHUOP SEREYROTH/GLOBE MEDIA ASIA

He felt that might be true to some degree but he remembered when he was in university he and his friends were bombarded by American films like everybody else until they discovered films from Iceland, Portugal, Argentina, Costa Rica and places that he didn’t know made movies at all.

“As we got into it, actually, their films are amazing. There were stories that reattach you and every interesting angle on life stories that you can transpose into your own world. We are all human and we have the same problems all over the world,” he says.

Czika says that in order to have a larger audience and a massive cinema following it will take years of promotion, but it’s their duty to make people interested in it.

“We try choose a mix of films that is very diverse. At the moment we only can afford to have five films subtitled in Khmer and we’d like to double that number. Dubbing them into Khmer might take away the charm of the film if it’s not done properly and it takes a lot of time as well and there are no resources. But we hope next year we can subtitle more in Khmer, otherwise all of the films are in English subtitles,” he says.

The motivation for bringing the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) to Cambodia is that it is part of the overall strategy to support “European Cultural Diplomacy”. All Delegations are encouraged to host the festival as it is an important tool to improve diplomatic relations, raise EU visibility and promote intercultural dialogue while respecting other traditions and values. Currently, over 70 out of the 141 Delegations around the world regularly organise the EUFF.

When asked about how these kinds of film festivals positively contribute to the development of film in Cambodia, Eloy says that film is universal and travels very easily and for filmmakers who want to see different kinds of films and get ideas they need to have access to a diversity of films like this and it could also lead to more international collaboration.

“Film in Cambodia is very important to the country. Before the Khmer rouge, King Norodom Sihanouk was a filmmaker who made about 40 films. He was the one who pushed the film industry here with theatres, producers and organising festivals and this laid the groundwork for Cambodia’s interest in cinema.

“In 2013 there was a co-production agreement signed between the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and its counterpart in France. This agreement opens up the possibility for Cambodian film collaborations with European producers with access to funding from France. Films are very important as it reflects our life and this builds the future for films in Cambodia,” Eloy says.

He says people didn’t realise that film is actually incredible for development because it creates jobs, hires people, brings in suppliers, books hotel rooms and directly brings foreign currency to Cambodia.

He says it also creates skills, promotes tourism and expands cultural knowledge among Cambodians which stops racism and discrimination because you see the way people on the other side of the world live and begin to relate to them.

In order for more Cambodian films to make it to the international stage, Cambodian director-producer Sok Visal of 802 Films says the first step is to have more producers and directors creating more films with improved screenwriting.

“There’s already a few talented people from the younger generation going to international film festivals around the world but it’s not enough. I think now many are stuck doing commercial work but we need more directors to start making films as art and as their passion. Also one of the main issues with Cambodian films is how they are written. Every good film starts with a good script and we need the knowledge and the training so that we’re teaching these filmmakers to write and make better films through script writing.

EU delegate Tihamer Czika addresses the festival audience. MATT BADDLEY, SNAPP MEDIA

“Filmmakers should really watch more films of all kinds not only from Hollywood but more stuff like these European films to get inspired. They have a lot of talent but they just need more motivation to act on it,” says Visal.

Visal says his dream is to build the new Cambodian golden age. For him the first golden age is the Angkor era and the second is the 60s and 70s so he would call the new golden age the third golden age of Cambodia.

“When I saw the state of culture like music and film, I felt that there was something that needed to be done. I saw a lot of young producers – people who are in the creative industry in Cambodia – try to really shine and become better at what they do but the young generation still needs to produce and create more. Also, Cambodians living overseas need to come back and share their experiences and work on it together.

He says that the dream of building the new golden age is quite big but when he came back to Cambodia many years ago from France he felt like he had this calling where he needed to do something to rebuild the culture.

“When I started in creative arts in Cambodia I decided to do music and from music I went on to make music videos and I worked for an agency and I started to do TV commercials. From there I went to TV series and after that I wanted to get involved in films.

“But everything that I did came from my passion for the arts and culture and it is that calling that pushes me to do everything I do now. I really hope the younger generation still has the drive after two years of the pandemic. It’s fairly important to revive the old arts but at the same time create new ones,” Visal says.

Czika says that just like any film festival, the participants can learn from each other’s creativity, culture, and way of making films. They can see the latest techniques in everything like scripts, filming, acting or editing before they go out and create their own films.

Visal says people who want to make movies need to be practical and they should start with whatever they have now – even shoot films with just their phone – because back in the 60’s or even in the 90’s it was very expensive to make films but now people can make them with nothing.

“Stop making excuses, find the time to do it. Write stories, get some friends to act and shoot it,” says Visal.

“One vital note – you must learn to have a culture of preparation so when everything is ready you know exactly what you’re doing,” Eloy adds.

For more information on the European Union Film Festival check out their Facebook page: @EuroFilmFestKH