Feb 07 2012
Siem Reap’s first film festival, the Angkor Wat International Film Festival, will be held at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Hotel from February 17 to 19. If you haven’t quite made it to Cannes yet, for whatever reason, here’s your chance to practice swirling cocktails, or perhaps a can of Anchor beer, while making come hither eyes at the star and star makers behind the films on show. Or, you could just enjoy a unique opportunity to watch a genuinely fantastic collection of films that have been selected with a focus on preservation of culture and environment. A series of panels at the festival will also discuss topics relating to digital cinema, subjects relevant to film and the festival’s themes.
The festival will showcase films, documentaries and shorts, both live and animated, and aims to act as a counter-point to a world in which the pressures to homogenise cultures are prevailing, promoting consumerism and materialism and placing both traditional cultures and the planet’s ecosystems at risk along the way.
Just a few of the must-see films include Bag It (following one man’s effort to do without plastic), Dreamland (a documentary that seems to have won something at almost every international film festival, which looks at what’s gone wrong with Iceland’s energy programme and the devastation it has wrought on the environment and economy), Climate Refugees, Gasland (on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, including startling scenes of exploding tap water), Home (which promises to be a spectacular view on our world by renowned French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand), and that’s before I get to the titles under I to Z.
Interestingly, the director of Gasland, Josh Fox, was thrown out of Congress and arrested for attempting to record public congressional hearings related to fracking held on February 1.
The opening film comes from Cambodia’s King Father, Norodom Sihanouk, a man who seemingly did everything bar the catering on the numerous films he wrote, produced, starred in, wrote the score for, and directed over the years. In La Cité Mystérieuse he explores Cambodian culture through the eyes of two Cambodian officials who go in search of a mysterious palace lost in the jungles. His second film in the festival, Peasants In Distress, is set during the UNTAC period in 1993, when a love triangle between a peasant and two rebel commanders becomes a tale of loss and betrayal against a backdrop of fear and political upheaval.
The festival organiser is Hawaiian-based Dr Tom Vendetti, a psychologist and Emmy award-winning film director. His films take intimate looks at different aspects of Asian and Pacific cultural life, and include Years of Darkness, a journey with a Cambodian former naval-man, who returns to his country in 2003, 29 years after he left and was stranded in the United States after the Khmer Rouge seized power.
Vendetti was asked to bring the festival here by Bernard Krisher, the founder of The Cambodia Daily newspaper back in 1993. Krisher is the subject of a tribute film that will be shown during the opening night gala event, alongside Soul Surfer, the acclaimed story of one girl’s struggle to become a professional surfer despite losing her arm to a shark attack at age 13.
Another Cambodia film that promises to be a big draw is The Trials of Henry Kissinger, based on the book by the renowned Christopher Hitchens and guaranteed to include some shocking revelations.
According to Vendetti, Siem Reap was selected as a destination in part because of its emerging ecotourism industry. The sometimes fraught relationship between conservation goals and the traditions of communities is explored in the multi-award winning documentary, Milking The Rhino, which looks at efforts by the Masai and Himba peoples to adopt and adapt to community based tourism principles that underpin genuine ecotourism.
In total, 31 films will be on show from 13:00 until 23:00 each day, and are free to all. A full schedule and details of the individual films can be found here.
(If you’re interested in other Southeast Asian film festivals, Luang Prabang’s is held in December each year — there have been two to date — and we have an interview with its founder here.)
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