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CAMBOFEST: Film and Video Festival of Cambodia is the first international independent movie festival in Cambodia, established in 2550/2007.
Now in entering our ** 5th ** edition, CAMBOFEST sets a standard for the region byscreening all movies only with permissions from copyright holders.
Features (fiction and documentaries), Shorts, Animation, "Universal Language" (movies with minimal dialogue, Local Showcase/Cambodian Movies, and other special programs.
Find out more at http://www.cambofest.com
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Film and Video Festival of Cambodia
Corrections regarding Claus Mueller's article about Cambodian Cinema
In June 2010 I received the following email from New York based correspondent and Cambodian cinema afficianado Claus Mueller:
From: Claus Mueller <email@example.com>
To: The CamboFest Team <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: combofest lite december 2010
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2010 14:35:29 -0400
In late April we communicated about CamboFestLite.....Since I may be in
Phnom Penh in December I am most interested in the
dates of the CamboFestLite event. Kindly advise at your earliest
convenience. Thank you
...although Claus had misspelled the name of our film festival, CamboFest - the first recurring international film festival in Cambodia since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, I had a desire to help him. He had never been to Cambodia, and he had indicated that he was interested in observing and covering the film industry in that country.
I have lived and worked full time for more than half a decade as a media practitioner, filmmaker, and founder of the CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival. I have learned Khmer, travelled widely through the country and the region, and have gained my masters degree at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
In all that time, I had never heard of Claus Mueller, but a colleague in New York had offered my email contact to him, and so I offered to assist where I could.
Over the course of the next year, I would receive many emails from Claus as he geared up for his first trip to Cambodia. He excitedlty explained the thesis of a documentary he wished to produce about something he called 'morbid tourism', wherein sites like S21/Toul Sleng and the Cheung Ek 'Killing Fields' in Phnom Penh were supposedly exploitative in drawing tourists through their horror value.
Again, Claus had never been to Cambodia and I sensed he was falling victim to a routine I'd witnessed many times during the time I lived and worked (over 5 years) in that country as a media practitioner.
Specifically, journalists and scholars - like Claus - had a tendency to create a thesis based upon a preconceived notion regarding Cambodia from their distant desks in London, New York, Rome, or wherever, and then 'shoehorn' this thesis into a framework later, whether in fact reality bore out this thesis or not.
In the case of Claus's 'morbid toursim', I pointed out that I had been to both S21 and Cheung Ek many times and had never once observed any tourist who had not been genuinley moved and transformed by the experience through sheer sympathetic value - versus the proposed shock/horror value which formed the armature of his thesis.
I stated that I was skeptical of his preconceived thesis, and that I hoped he might arrive with an open mind and explore his proposed topic more objectively when he did in fact come to Cambodia.
Over the course of the following year, I patiently replied to the sea of emails that Claus sent leading up to his trip.
Time passed. Nearly a year passed, yet still Claus had not arrived. By the time he did finally visit, I was not in Cambodia - I was in neighboring Thailand, in Bangkok, where we had just wrapped another regional film fest (the Bangkok IndieFest) and where I was teaching documentary production at a local university.
Finally, Claus announced he was on his way - he would like to meet me to discuss some items related to our notable film festival, CamboFest. I told him that, in the intervening year, I had gone to Bangkok and that I would be unable to meet him unless he were to pass through Bangkok on his way, or unless he were still in Cambodia when I returned.
And that was the last I heard from Claus...until his article finally appeared:
Claus' article represents an attempt at a capsule history of Cambodian cinema, and its contemporary issues.
However, I noticed some serious omissions and errors which I hope to address here, including factual errors related to the pioneering CamboFest film festival.
(*I mentioned these errors to Claus; he remarked that I was not available to consult him. I responded that he could always have emailed me - as he had done many times in the past - or even resorted to a Google search to find his clarifying facts)
Claus states, regarding CamboFest:
That Festival was held in the capital and Siem Riep for an audience consisting to a large extent of foreigners.
This is factually incorrect. Both the 2009 and 2011 editions of the festival were held in the provincial town of Kampot, Cambodia, *specifically* to help develop the media sector and promote a sustainable enterprise outside of the capital or Siem Reap.
The 2009 edition of CamboFest saw the actual DISCOVERY and REVIVAL of a lost Cambodian cinema, the 'Royal', which had shuttered in 1986.
We built and installed a custom screen, power system, and devised an all-digital throughput for this absolutely historical event, something which was accomplished on a grass roots budget - something which not even UNESCO had been able to achieve - though this sort of activity is within their mandate.
See photos from this historic event here: http://cambofest.blogspot.com/2009/12/initial-pix-content-from-cambofest-2009.html
Notable during CamboFest was the involvement of Cambodian staff and visitors (Claus incorrectly states, above, that the CamboFest audience was 'to a large extent foreigners').
For example, during the 2009 edition of the festival, we screened Golden Age filmmaker Yvon Hem's historic film, 'Shadow of Darkness' - with a phone call-in by the filmmaker, who could not attend - and the audience was primarily Cambodian (*ticket policy was liberalized for that and other screenings, allowing guests to contribute food, banannas, etc for staff meals instead of paying in cash).
Later, at the 2011 '4th Edition' of CamboFest - again held in the provincial town of Kampot, NOT Phnom Penh or Siem Reap as Claus states - we trained a local Cambodian youth group, the YAHRD (Youth Association for Human Resource Development) to actually run the entire festival, from setting up the gear to greeting guests, to promoting and changing the discs. It was their show.
See pix here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.134788406592153.26621.107388979332096 (and elsewhere @ http://www.facebook.com/CAMBOFEST)
These were Cambodians, not foreigners. These Cambodian youth were trained on a grass roots budget without any agency mandate, without any national foreign agenda, simply to help develop a future capacity in the Cambodian film industry and exhibition sector.
Again: this was a Cambodian run event, with Cambodian guests attending. It did not take place in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, as Claus erroneously states, but in the provincial town of Kampot. The open air screenings drew a bountiful and very mixed crowd of Cambodian and foreigners, whoever happened to be passing by.
One notable screening at the 4th edition, conducted with the permission of the Flaherty Film Seminar and the Flaherty estate, was the long belated Cambodian premiere of 'Nanook of the North', with live Khmer narration provided by the youth group members.
It's unfortunate, but not surprising, that Claus chose not to include relevant information about the history of Cambodian cinema in his article, especially after emailing me so many times about items ranging from CamboFest to his thesis about 'morbid tourism' in Cambodia.
The Cambodian context is home to many rival groups and agencies vying for influence and prominence in the region, including some who have a long history in 'Indochina'.
Several of the (foreign) state government supported entities and cultural regimes in Cambodia have been irked that a grass roots, independent festival like CamboFest - without any national government support or mandate from Paris, Washington, or Berlin - is able to undertake so many bona fide activties with a fraction of their budget, and without any ulterior agenda or motive but to promote cinema and a film culture in Cambodia.
Therefore, said agencies and cultural regimes in Cambodia have a tendency to whisper revisionist factoids into the ears of visiting journalists, like Claus, who may in turn not posess the diligence to conduct followup - either in person, via email, phone, or by a simple Google search.
Besides the historical omission regarding CamboFest, Claus also fail to identify and explore any linkage between (foreign) state sponsored media organizations and exhibition piracy, and in fact unwittingly aids and abets it.
He highlights one such organiztion in his article as a 'place to educate new filmmakers', when this center is actually one of the most flagrant violators of motion picture IP in SE Asia, undertaking regular pirate exhibitions on great frequency and scale.
One affected filmmaker, 2010 Cannes film festival winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, emailed me recently to lament (regarding his film 'Uncle Boonmee' screening at this foreign-run venue in Phnom Penh without his or his distributor's knowledge):
"...On many occasions, it has screened the films without directors' knowledge and consent. Even though it is a free screening, it allows the venue to advertise itself, to seek funds, and to facilitate the notion that copyright is a non-issue in the region. I found a rationalization that UNCLE BOOMEE is available on a pirate DVD for 2 USD -- sad. It doesn't justify another abuse of the film."
Claus fails to investigate this issue. Instead, he actually highlights this same venue - which Apichatpong clearly fingers via his email to me as a non-diligent foreign (non-Cambodian) run IP violator, illegitimately screening his work, 'Uncle Boonmee' and others - as a place to 'educate new filmmakers' (!).
I hope this clarifies and highlights some of the factual omissions and oversights presented by Cambodian film industry scholar Claus Mueller.
As I stated to Claus in a followup email, even the most basic of journalist's tools - the Google Search - would have clarified some of these items.
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