In an enlightening conversation with The Post, EU ambassador to Cambodia Igor Driesmans discussed the 2024 European Film Festival (EUFF), which is currently underway in Cambodia. The festival was scheduled to run from February 23 to March 3.

Driesmans emphasised its role in cultural diplomacy, highlighting the festival’s aim of showcasing European cinema’s diversity, while fostering dialogue between European and Cambodian audiences. 

With its 15th iteration featuring entries from 23 nations, Driesmans expressed his hopes that the festival will serve as a platform for European filmmakers to engage with local audiences through film.

With 22 films – all shown with English subtitles (and a few with Khmer) – being screened for free across Phnom Penh, the EUFF aims to transform the city into a cultural hub, celebrating cinema’s power to unite people across different backgrounds.

How were the films selected for this festival, and what themes or messages were you aiming to highlight through these selections?

EU delegations around the world receive a list of non-commercial rights films for selection. In addition to that, EU member states also provide films. From all of these possibilities, a selection is made locally together with the three cultural institutes that work with the EU delegation to organise the festival (The French Institute, Meta House and Bophana Centre), taking into consideration the films that might interesting to the Cambodian audience.

After putting all the films on the table, local staff from each partner institution, representing the local audience preference, are encouraged to vote for the best 15-20 films for the festival. 

The 22 films presented this year come from 23 nations across Europe. They cover every corner of Europe and many of them are co-productions between several EU countries. We also tried to choose films which are discussing social and political issues of today, and are at the same time entertaining and fun to watch.

We will have both serious dramas, but many fun comedies and even films for children. Our festivals do not have one specific theme, as the films presented are very diverse in the type of stories they cover.

In what ways does the festival aim to promote cultural exchange between Europe and Cambodia?

The EUFF aims to promote cultural exchange between Europe and Cambodia by showcasing a diverse selection of European films to Cambodian audiences.

European films rarely make it to Cambodian cinemas, which are dominated mainly by American blockbusters and Japanese, Thai, Korean films. The exposure that the EUFF brings allows Cambodians to experience different cultural perspectives, traditions, and storytelling styles from across Europe. 

Additionally, the festival will facilitate discussions between European and Cambodian filmmakers or audiences through a series of special events that take them deeper into the world of film production.

In this year’s EUFF, there will be Q&A sessions with select filmmakers after screenings of their films. A one-time masterclass on creative writing and low-budget strategies will also take place on February 29 at the Bophana Centre, with special guests Chilean scriptwriter and audiovisual specialist Alejandro de la Fuente and Valerio Caruso from Cineuropa serving as moderators. 

How do you believe European films can contribute to the cultural and artistic landscape in Cambodia?

They can contribute by providing diverse perspectives, storytelling techniques, and artistic styles that can inspire local filmmakers and audiences. They can introduce Cambodian viewers to different cultures, histories, and social issues, fostering a greater understanding of the world beyond their borders.

Additionally, European films can serve as a source of artistic inspiration, influencing Cambodian filmmakers and contributing to the development of the local film industry. This cultural exchange can enrich Cambodia’s artistic landscape and contribute to the global dialogue on cinema and storytelling.

Could you elaborate on the role of the EU in supporting arts and cinema both within its member states and internationally?

The EU plays a significant role in supporting arts and cinema. Within its member states, the EU provides funding through programmes such as the Creative Europe program, which aims to promote the cultural and creative sectors.

This includes support for film production, distribution, and exhibition, as well as initiatives to preserve and promote Europe’s cultural heritage, including the cinematic one.

Internationally, the EU supports cultural exchange and cooperation through various initiatives and partnerships, including through funding for the EUFF’s.

In Cambodia, beyond the yearly EUFF, the EU Delegation also supports The Photo Phnom Penh Festival and the International Music Festival.

What initiatives have been put in place to ensure that a wide audience in Cambodia can access and engage with the films shown at the festival?

First and foremost all films screenings are free of charge. Secondly, we have organised the screenings in various locations across Phnom Penh, including the French Institute, Meta House and the Bophana Centre.

This year, we have also added Legend Cinemas. We selected Legend Cinema Noromall, which is located in the heart of Phnom Penh, to be one of our screening venues. To further innovate and give even easier access, as of this year, we are also collaborating with Coconut Park to host open-air cinema on both weekends of the festival and engage more people. 

At the same time, this venue will hold a pop-up “night market” where visitors can enjoy food and entertainment. Last but not the least, we have worked extensively to promote the festival through all channels including Facebook, partners and member states’ social media pages, as well as local media.

Are there any outreaches or educational programs associated with the festival?

As mentioned above, throughout the week, there will be Q&A sessions with select filmmakers after screenings of their films, as well as a one-off masterclass on creative writing and low-budget strategies will also take place, with special guests Chilean scriptwriter and audiovisual specialist Alejandro de la Fuente and Valerio Caruso from Cineuropa serving as moderators.

From the ambassador’s perspective, what impact do you hope the festival will have on Cambodian audiences?

I hope that the Cambodians coming to see these films will appreciate the diversity and creativity of European Cinema and they will become more interested in European films, going beyond what the usual cinema selection is in Phnom Penh.

What are the plans for ensuring the sustainability of the European Film Festival in Cambodia for future years?

We will of course keep our excellent partnership with the 3 cultural institutes that are assisting with its organisation, and hope that we can also provide a budget for it in the coming years. We innovate every year in our marketing and outreach strategies to attract more local audiences.

How does the festival plan to evolve in terms of themes, outreach, and technological advancements in cinema?

The European Film Festival aims to evolve by exploring a diverse range of films that depict the cultural, social, and political landscape of Europe. This includes showcasing films that address contemporary issues, historical events, and artistic innovation.

Each year the festival embraces technological advancements in cinema through master classes, conducted by European filmmakers who showcase the latest techniques and technologies.

What is the importance of cultural events like the European Film Festival in strengthening the relationship between the EU and Cambodia?

Cultural events like the European Film Festival play a significant role in strengthening the relationship between the EU and Cambodia. These events provide a platform for cultural exchange, fostering mutual understanding and appreciation between the two parties.

This film festival is as essential part of our cultural diplomacy in Cambodia. Additionally, such events can enhance people-to-people connections, facilitate dialogue, and promote collaboration in various fields, including arts, education and tourism.