Friday, February 26, 2016

'Reviving a Vintage Cinema House in Southeast Asia' - eBook and Documentary from CamboFest

NEW! 'Reviving a Vintage Cinema House in Southeast Asia' - forthcoming eBook and Documentary, subscribe to the mailing list at :: In 2009, my team and I in Cambodia rediscovered and revived a vintage cinema house in Kampot, the 'Royal', which hadn't been used since 1989 (it was at the time being used as a water container storage warehouse and hardly resembled a cinema seen at )

While the art scene in Kampot has recently taken off, at the time, back in 2009, there was resistance from some quarters to the idea of reviving the old cinema hall, and factions within the provincial Culture office clashed with old rivals about bringing the Royal back to life for our event, the CamboFest Film Festival - Cambodia's first film festival since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. Meanwhile, interference by foreign movie pirates and friction among some expatriates within the art scene also made things tough going, especially with our puny grass roots budget - probably 1/10,000 that of a typical UNESCO effort. I paid for a lot of the effort out of my own pocket...

There was no simple, streamlined process to gain permissions at the time, and everything had to be done from scratch. I went to Kampot 15 or 20 times by bus from Phnom Penh, in between teaching jobs, on weekends, etc, to keep things rolling. It was not a simple matter of just asking the family who owned the old cinema hall for permission: there was a difficult and labyrinthine process of figuring out just who to ask to get permissions, and I found that I was often on my own negotiating in Khmer as best I could. 

Permission had to be granted from the highest authority at the Minister's office, and although there were many, many supporters, there were also some folks - foreign and Cambodian - who just didn't want to see the cinema hall come back for various personal and political reasons. (*I'll get into this more in the eBook and documentary) Even so, despite all the challenges, the event was a success, thanks to our team, all volunteers, and sponsors including the US Embassy in Phnom Penh. The old Southeast Asian Royal cinema hall sparkled and shone again, after years of dormancy, with an all-digital throughput and customized screen and sound system.  

Late great Cambodian filmmaker Yvon Hem receives the CamboFest Grabay Meas (Golden Buffalo) award in recognition for his work.

Now, in 2016, more and more cultural events are taking place at the 'Royal', thus bringing back to life an entire sector of the cultural economy in Cambodia,  while allowing Mr. Sokun and his family, who are of modest means and who live in the 'Royale', to generate some income. Today, permissions appear to be very simple and straightforward - unlike the formidable and nearly impossible process we experienced at the time. It just goes to show that a determined grass roots effort * can * make a difference 

Kindly sign up for updates regarding the comprehensive eBook (with photos) about our efforts and the historical process of reviving the old 'Royal' movie hall back then, and the short documentary and multimedia project which will accompany it: In the meantime, read more at

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

CamboFest 2016 Update

Hello Friends:

It's been a while since the last update for Cambodia's first film festival, the CamboFest Film & Video Festival!

Established way back in 2007, CamboFest was the first internationally recognized movie festival to take place in Cambodia since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime...our indie, grass roots event has since inspired and encouraged a host of other movie festival events in Cambodia who followed our pioneering lead!

As some may know, the CamboFest event went on a multi-year hiatus to 'wait out' some challenging variables in the local media environment here in Cambodia, in order to allow those to settle and disperse.

CamboFest is now back on track to undertake its first event in a number of years; depending on the number of quality submitted films, financing, and other factors, this may be a 'Lite' event - as was held in 2008 Phnom Penh, and in 2009 in Siem Reap as the festival once again gains traction.

In either case, CamboFest's Khmer staffers are at this very moment (1/13/16) viewing screeners submitted through our portal at FilmFreeway, and are busily ranking and notating those entries.

Given the curve that always accompanies training, our intention is to stay on course for a late March event.

However, given the challenges of starting up an event again in the developing world after a multi-year pause, there's always a chance this may need some adjustment - stand by in any case for any updates.

And always, always please refer to this official blog for verified news regarding the CamboFest event!  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

CAMBOFEST, Cambodia International Film Festival 4th Edition Post Festival Report

CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival 4.0 (4th Edition)
Post Festival Report


CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival ( is an international film festival in Cambodia established in 2550/2007 by Camerado (SE Asia).

CamboFest is Cambodia's first internationally recognized recurring film festival, and is one of the only recurring international movie events in Cambodia since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The event is funded through a variety of private and public sector sources, with fundraising utilizing a range of approaches, including: grass-roots fundraising, crowdsourcing, institutional level grant applications, and various forms of internal revenue generation.

CamboFest showcases international and local film and video makers in order to help revive a bona fide cinema industry and movie culture in Cambodia, while attempting to maintain an intrinsically entertaining event and media platform that is capable of attracting local and international audiences.

The festival also serves to promote awareness of IP (Intellectual Property) practices in the Cambodian media and motion picture sector by securing public performance permissions for every movie screened from copyright holders. Permissions specify the Cambodian territory, and not any 3rd party sub distributor or territory as a ‘grey area’ workaround, for all screening purposes. The goal is to establish Cambodia as a viable and recognized exhibition location internationally.

This level of industry standard diligence, which is normal in developed nations, but unusual in Cambodia, has in the past elicited some backlash from some Cambodia-based businesses founded upon the organized, unlicensed exhibition of movie content as a core component of their operations.

Unlike other film festival efforts in Cambodia, CamboFest is an independent, largely non-subsidized event and operates apart from any local or international government or non-governmental agency. The event is therefore largely free from donor agendas or interests, hence its independent or ‘indie’ sensibility.

The festival is designed primarily for entertainment and edutainment (E-E) purposes, with a significant amount of educational, prosocial and development oriented content programmed alongside entertainment-oriented international and local movies.

Besides a range of social issue and educational videos, participating films at CamboFest typically include: animation, drama, action, sci-fi, horror, creative documentaries, a local Cambodian and Southeast Asian showcase, amongst other genres.

Programming of CamboFest is eclectic and is designed to develop a local filmmaking sensibility that may reasonably have high likelihood of evolving into sustainable (non-subsidized) Cambodian film industry in the long term, with key genres established to be more commercially saleable than others.

By way of example: Western/European art-house style cinema, though valid forms in their home countries, do not observably engage popular local audiences in a significant way in the Cambodian context and are therefore not (currently) featured as prominently as some genre oriented titles.

In any case, to date, over 250 international filmmakers have participated in CamboFest.


In its first two years, from 2007 through 2008, CamboFest was held at various art spaces and open air venues in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia. A dedicated, 'Youtube'-style online video portal was also utilized for the 2007 and 2008 editions as a supplemental online component.

This portal, called CamboTube, featured its own dedicated FFMPEG conversion engines on its own servers, unlike other online channels that utilize Youtube or other dependent video sharing devices as a host.

This online component was abandoned later, however, due to bandwidth and user access (Digital Divide) limitations although some important design elements from CamboTube have been incorporated into a design for a new
prosocial auto-replicating hardware platform in development by Camerado SE Asia, called PILGRIM.

CamboFest’s 3rd Edition

The historically significant third (2009) edition of CamboFest took place in the vintage Cambodian 'Royal' cinema hall, in Kampot, Cambodia, a venue which had been unused since 1989.

Only a handful of older local Cambodians remembered of the 'Royal', which had lain unused since 1989 when it was shut to public screenings as the sustainability of the business became non-viable. This was in large part, according to the then and current owner, due to the growing affordability of the VCR in post conflict Cambodia which allowed for private viewing of titles in the perceived safety and comfort of home.

Approvals for the 3rd edition of CamboFest were provided through the authority of the Kampot Governor’s office, bypassing the need to receive centralized Phnom Penh Ministry approval, so long as the event were held in the jurisdiction of Kampot province.

Even so, with this component of Cambodia’s decentralization and deconcentration reform working well on paper, there was some actual reluctance from the relevant Cambodian government Ministry to relinquish its authority to the provincial level. The approvals were finally gained, with all relevant stamped paperwork available in an archived state.

Additional challenges emerged when foreigners residing in Cambodia, including those affiliated with at least one non-diligent (aka, “pirate”) cinema venue in Phnom Penh, reacted negatively to CamboFest’s pro-filmmaker activities in the lead up to its 3rd edition at the ‘Royal’.

The foreign non-Cambodians subsequently attempted to thwart the 3rd edition festival, Cambodia’s only film festival at the time, with a series of hoax classified ads placed in the local press, and through phony press releases sent locally and abroad*. (*for coverage of these incidents, see

Despite the interference by foreign elements and the reluctance of the Cambodian centralized government to allow decentralized provincial level approvals, the 3rd (2009) historically significant 'Royal' edition of CamboFest was held as planned, from December 4–6, 2009.

A number of international filmmakers and others found the production challenges experienced by the event to be notable, insofar as they highlighted some of the obstacles that a pioneering cinema effort like CamboFest may face:

"His Majesty the King-Father asked me to thank you on His behalf. He read with great interest your report about your activities in reviving the cinema industry in Cambodia." 

- Cabinet assistant of H.M. The King-Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia

Lead up to the 4th EDITION

Following the challenges experienced in the Cambodian media environment during the process of producing the event’s 3rd edition, the festival director made a decision to invite the participation of a Cambodian youth group for the planned 4th edition, in order to better ensure for the long term viability of the festival.

This decision was based on an estimation at the time, that the Cambodian media sector could still require 10-20 years to evolve to a point where (like neighboring Thailand) film festival events and related forms of public media expression could be produced with a normal, reliable, bankable, streamlined process typical of developed media environments.

Furthermore, it was estimated that the IP media sector in Cambodia may require a similar period of time to develop to a point where backlash or interference from local businesses and persons involved in organized unlicensed exploitation of motion picture titles would be minimized or absent.

In short, it was assumed that a youth group would have the time to ‘grow into’ a normal film culture. Problematic variables in the media sector and Cambodian government processes would (hopefully) pass away over the years, and the CamboFest film festival could serve as a point of departure or training ground for interested future festival staff and media professionals.

Additionally, CamboFest’s director (Jason Rosette) a Caucasian foreign filmmaker and media producer (though living in Cambodia fulltime, by choice, as an unsubsidized freelancer for over half a decade), considered the reality and perception of himself as a ‘colonial white face’ atop a Cambodian-based collective to be unappealing and inconsistent with core founding notions of CamboFest as a multicultural, pluralistic, local effort.

The participation of a local youth group, in this case the Kampot based Youth Association for Human Resource Development (YAHRD), was deemed to be a crucial step to the long term viability of the CamboFest effort, in whatever form it would assume in the future.

YAHRD youth group members hand out flyers before the start of CamboFest 4 screenings

The Fourth Edition of CAMBOFEST: March 1-9, 2011

Pre-production of CamboFest’s 4th edition took place concurrently to the production of another regional film festival, also established by CamboFest’s founder, the Bangkok IndieFest ( in neighboring Thailand*. (*for a comparison both festivals relevant to their respective environments,

In order to optimize the timing and synergy of both events, the 4th edition of CamboFest was shifted back several months from its annual recurrent timeline in order to exploit any publicity components generated during the Bangkok IndieFest.

Therefore, the 4th edition of the CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival was slated to take place in March 2011, some 15 months after the previous edition of December 2009, ‘rebooting’ towards a newly devised recurring schedule.

Cold Feet

Fundraising for the 4th edition of the CamboFest carried on as per previous editions, with vigorous outreach commencing to both individual and institutional level supporters through direct outreach, mailing lists, crowdfunding, and other means.

However, following the challenges from foreign interference experienced at the previous, 3rd edition of CamboFest, institutional and foundational level sponsors had ‘cold feet’, and were observably reluctant to support the 4th edition of the festival - even with taxpayer funds at their disposal specifically earmarked for use in challenged developing environments like Cambodia.

For example, one local embassy which had supported CamboFest in previous editions, uncharacteristically balked at offering any support for the 4th edition. Furthermore, the embassy would not allow the loan of either of its two large venue projectors (as it had at the previous edition) for the youth group’s training.

Additionally, a degree of misinformation presented by foreign residents in Cambodia, including the representative of one foreign government-funded media organization, the Cambodia Film Commission (see below), caused some potential contributors to question CamboFest’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Cambodian government, further affecting the availability of funding.

Therefore, one recommendation would be for potential future funders to seek only an authorized, Cambodian government representative’s statement regarding any effort’s ability and authorization to operate in the Cambodian environment. Ideally, this confirmation should come from the highest Ministry level or above.

In any case, despite the reluctance of institutional supporters during the CamboFest’s 4th edition’s fundraising efforts, a host of worldwide individual contributors stepped in to fill the gap instead.
These individual supporters were instrumental to the 4th edition’s production and success.

A Phnom Penh based photographer, James Mizurski, for example provided funds for the purchase of a 3D enabled projector to be provided to the Cambodian YAHRD youth group for use during the event and their ongoing, year-round practice.

Germany-based contributor Rolando Dubioso, a longtime contributor to
Camerado projects, made one of several significant gifts for operational funding.

Additional contributions were made by a variety of worldwide film and media professionals, many who had never been to Cambodia, but who supported the mission and approach of the CamboFest effort. (A list of all contributors here :

Remaining core funds for the 4th edition of CamboFest would be derived from residual international filmmaker entry fees, with the shortfall being covered by volunteerism on all sides, a portion of funds provided out of pocket by the festival director himself, and a further reduction in costs achieved by replacing the traditional CamboFest ‘Grabay Meas’ trophy with a less costly awards certificate until revenue allowed its return.

Additional in-kind supporters stepped forward: the Cambodia Daily newspaper, under the generous contribution of founder and publisher Bernard Krishner, contributed pro-bono advertising to the CamboFest 4th edition on a scale which would not have been affordable on the effort’s grass-roots budget.

Technicolor ( in Bangkok provided an in-kind facilities package to participating Cambodian CamboFest filmmakers, showing a significant level of international support to its ASEAN neighbor.
Finally, local foreign and Cambodian fans in Kampot promised their support in the form of food, accommodation and other sustenance for the festival staff, as they had in the 3rd edition.

In summary: thanks to individual worldwide contributors, the 4th edition of CamboFest took place as planned.

The dates of the 4th edition of CamboFest were set a year in advance, with dates set to run from March 1-9, 2011.  The festival would again take place in Kampot, Cambodia, following the invitation of the Kampot governor’s office following the conclusion of the 3rd edition.

The festival was slated again to take place at the ‘Royal’ cinema house, as per the 3rd edition, with the understanding that workflows with the local, decentralized approvals process would be streamlined since the previous event.

Additionally, the dates for the 4th edition of CamboFest were chosen with International Women’s Day (March 8) in mind to form an armature for appropriately themed films to take place throughout the festival, with the 8th being a highlight day for films by women filmmakers.

For the 4th edition, the festival run was extended from 3 days to 9 days, with a repeat of programs as needed, in order to provide a more difficult target for possible interference of the kind sustained during the 3rd edition; whether or not this would occur again was unknown. The extra days would allow more recovery time from any misinformation placed in the local press while providing a contingency for any last minute, unexpected interventions from the Cambodian government.

Ultimately, no notable interference from foreigners residing in Cambodia occurred during the lead up to the 4th edition of CamboFest.

However, last minute methodological challenges occurred in the Cambodian government’s permissions process, in an arbitrary departure from the previously established decentralized approvals process.

The Cambodian government ministry in charge of film festival cultural events, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MOCFA) intervened five days prior to the event with a request to inspect and review all content to be presented at CamboFest, overriding the Kampot governor’s authority to approve the event independently.

This occurred despite the fact that a copy of all 50+ films had already long been provided to the Kampot governor’s office for review and observation on DVD.

Calls from CamboFest staff, the YAHRD youth group, and the CamboFest director to Som Sokum, Cambodia's Secretary of State in Charge of Cinema in the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry, had no effect on restoring the process to the previously implemented decentralized system.

The Secretary – who had on May 19, 2010 signed a Film Cooperation agreement with the French CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie) – stated he was unable to agree to the Kampot governor’s authorization to approve the event in the normal decentralized fashion, as had been done in the previous edition.

This new requirement by the MOCFA required an additional last minute visit by CamboFest staff and petitions to the department of Cinema representative in Phnom Penh. 

After some time in last minute discussion, a Cambodian government representative at the Department of Cinema indicated that he would not impede CamboFest’s 4th edition event if it did not collect revenue, as it was designated primarily for the training of the benefit and training of the YAHRD Youth Group in Kampot in any case.

Following the meeting with the representative of the Department of Cinema in Phnom Penh, the organizers of CamboFest returned to Kampot and continued to train and tech the YAHRD youth group in time for the 4th edition of the festival.

Since revenues could now no longer be collected if the festival were to proceed, the event could now no longer afford to rent the vintage ‘Royal’ movie hall: that venue had to be abandoned in favor of an immediate, pro-bono substitute.

With only one day to locate a replacement venue, CamboFest staff and members of the YAHRD youth group scoured Kampot on foot for a workable festival location that would enable the youth group to undertake its film festival training.

Responding to the needs of the event, the Cambodian owned and operated Little Garden Guesthouse in Kampot was the first to offer its outdoor open air restaurant and lounge as a replacement screening venue.

An unanticipated benefit to this change was that its open air structure on the street level near the Kampot riverside allowed for more ambient and unplanned foot traffic than might otherwise be gained.

For example, after the CamboFest was underway, a number of disabled and wheelchair bound audience members were able to view films simply by rolling up to the curb and watching with everyone else – something that would not be possible with a less accessible venue.

One Cambodian former soldier and mine victim happened upon an evening screening of a landmine awareness documentary at the event, and was greatly moved by what he saw and experienced, stating that he learned (through the film) that there were others like him, and that resources & organizations existed to assist him.

With regard to ‘cultural and moral’ aspects of the filmed content, requiring approval and observation by the Cambodian government, CamboFest staffers referred to local Cambodian sensibilities by pre-screening movies to youth group members and others to eliminate any potential problems with content during public exhibition at the festival event.

CamboFest's fourth edition therefore, took place largely as planned, on March 2-6, 2011. As mentioned, dates were publicly listed as March 1-9; the extra days were designed as ‘padding’ to render any potential targeted pranks and last minute Cambodian government variances less problematic for the event.

This had fortuitously been the case, since one festival day had been rescheduled due to the last minute intervention by the MOCFA.

Youth group members and CamboFest’s founder J Rosette with guests at the 4th edition

Achievements and Accomplishments at
CamboFest’s 4th Edition

After all the earlier challenges, there was minimal interference with the CamboFest event from any source after it was actually up and running.

The YAHRD youth group quickly learned to set up and operate all screening equipment, and by the final day were autonomously running the entire event: greeting guests, setting up hardware, changing discs, announcing the program, distributing flyers, and more.

Despite the unique 4th edition challenges, the significant local participation and training of the Cambodian youth group - a crucial link to the formation of a local film culture in Cambodia – took place as planned.

“Cambofest was a first experience for our youth. It showed them many sides of movie shows not just projecting. Because experience was hands-on, it gave them many skills. How to talk to customers, setup screen, and use DVD player and speakers. It also challenge them to think quickly. They tell me they have confidence now because of Cambofest.  Since Cambofest, I see this is true.  We look forward to staying involved in Cambofest.”---Keut Mattrohet,  Youth Group  Representative & Cambofest volunteer

“I like Cambofest and want it to come back. I only work one night because I busy, but learn about movies and how to set up machine. Movies show me about the world and many different people. I like that. My favourite movies about Khmer Rouge and landmine. I want Cambofest to come back so I talk to film people and learn about making movies.”---El Son, Youth Group member & volunteer

“I enjoy Cambofest. Never before I have chance to be so brave. Cambofest make me brave talking to customers, selling T-shirts. I learn about equipment and now can setup and show movie show. Cambofest make me interested in movies and how they are made. I want to know more about movies like acting, writing, scenery and camera. I like movies about Cambodia and Khmer people best. Cambofest very good for youth group and Kampot.”---Saffiy Man, Youth Group member & Cambofest volunteer

The youth group, many of whom had never even operated AV gear before, set up and operated all equipment, changed screeners, greeted and informed guests, conducted outreach and publicity, and by the final day were essentially running the entire CamboFest 4th edition event.
The festival, along with the youth group training effort, was undertaken without any donor or agency mandate, and without any institutional donor support beyond individual contributions, and with a bare minimum amount of funding.

CamboFest’s director would encourage funders and donors operating in the Cambodian environment to reflect upon, and adjust if necessary, their funding priorities and workflows as needed to support worthwhile efforts like CamboFest in atypical markets in the future.

In another notable development, long-time CamboFest staffer and co-organizer, Cambodian national Phun Sokunthearith, was invited to participate in the prestigious DW-Akademie film festival training program at the 2011 Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) in Germany. 

Rith (aka ‘Mr. Tol’) returned to Cambodia after a month in Berlin, only a few days before the commencement of CamboFest’s 4th edition. He brought with him new skills and capabilities specifically designed for organizing film festival programs, thanks to that organization’s generous assistance and mentorship.

Notable screenings at the 4th edition of CamboFest included, along with fifty other new local and international films: the long-awaited official Cambodian premiere of Robert Flaherty's pioneering documentary, 'Nanook of the North', with historic live Khmer narration, translated and read to an eager audience by the youth group.

The pioneering documentary finally enjoyed its official premiere in Cambodia, 88 years after its initial release, with the permission of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminars, Inc, who monitored and supported the production of the event closely despite its challenges.

‘Nanook of the North’ enjoys its belated official Cambodian premiere at the 4th edition of CamboFest – 88 years after its release (Courtesy Flaherty Film Seminars., Inc.)

Regrettably, due to the unexpected intervention from the Cambodian MOCFA, the owner of Kampot’s ‘Royal’ theater had not been able to enjoy any of the rental revenue he had been counting on and sorely needed to fix his truck.

The CamboFest director, after the conclusion of the event, therefore went to retrieve an unofficial payment made earlier to a staff member at the Kampot governor’s office. This staff member had earlier promised to accelerate the decentralized permissions process, and had assured approval from the local Culture ministry in Kampot, a promise that was not kept.

Following a brief discussion, and in an exceptionally rare display of the refund of unofficial fees, the governor’s staff member returned the sum to the CamboFest director.

In turn, a coffee making kit was then purchased with the recovered corruption money and was given to the owner of the ‘Royal’ cinema and his family as a microbusiness mechanism.

It was hoped that the loss of rental revenue would be offset over the course of time by this microbusiness, with the family selling cups of coffee and tea to curious guests who continued to stop by the ‘Royal’ throughout the year.

To this day, visitors coming to the vintage ‘Royal’ movie hall in Kampot can currently spend some time in the old Cambodian cinema house, while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea for only $1/4000Riel*. (*guests should be able to ask for the coffee or tea in Khmer language)

Post-Festival Environment

After the conclusion of the 4th edition of CamboFest, it became apparent that there are still fundamental challenges to producing a non-aligned, independent film festival event in the current Cambodian context.

Although independent film festivals are the norm around the world, foreign state funded efforts in the Cambodian environment are dominant and continue to impact the viability of non-aligned media events which do not enjoy an equal level of subsidy.

By way of example, there are many independent film festivals in neighboring Thailand, including the Camerado-produced Bangkok IndieFest, which did not experience any of the resistances in the media environment that had been encountered with the production of CamboFest. (*for a comparison, see

Moreover, a degree of market distortion resulting from the dominance of ‘free’* foreign government subsidized cultural events in Cambodia, along with observable local government restrictions on ticket sales, makes it
a challenge to recoup event production costs at the door as per normal developed environments. (*free locally, but paid for by taxpayers in respective home countries)

A decision was therefore made by the director of CamboFest, after the conclusion of the 4th edition of the event, to disengage from an annual/one year festival cycle which is typical of mature and fully industrialized media markets. This decision would be sustained until the media ecosystem in Cambodia normalized to a reasonably developed level, and without impediments imposed through market distortions resulting from heavily subsidized, foreign-aligned programs.

The festival will continue on an event-by-event basis as demand, support, resources, interest, and creative will allows.

However, popular demand based on numerous sign-ups on the CamboFest mailing list, that a 5th festival edition would be welcomed, and a 5th edition of the festival is planned.

Funders, sponsors, filmmakers, volunteers and others kindly contact with inquiries.

Continued Challenges:
“the shadow is darkest beneath the lamp”

Some challenges continued after the conclusion of the 4th edition of the CamboFest festival, however, as elements of non-constructive misinformation continued to propagate in the local Cambodian media environment.

One notable instance of misinformation emerged, disappointingly, from a foreign-funded media organization established ostensibly to help revive a local cinema culture in Cambodia: the Cambodia Film Commission.

In August, 2011, some months after the conclusion of the 4th edition of CamboFest, a foreign employee working with the Cambodian Film Commission emailed the CamboFest director with some apparently significant news:

from  Cedric ELOY - CFC
to      Jason Rosette / CAMERADO
date  Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 12:22 PM
subject       Re: Correction ~ Fw: about CamboFest
         Important mainly because of your interaction with messages in the conversation.
hide details Aug 18

Hi Jason,

Thank you for the info.

We had a meeting with the Ministry of Culture when they told us that CAMBOFEST was no longer authorized to operate in Cambodia.

Did you get any formal information regarding this ?...

The representative provided no further information or clarification, despite several followup emails from the CamboFest director. Some response would have been arguably appropriate, given that the representative, Mr. Cedric Eloy, occupied a visible position at a significant Cambodia-based cinema organization dedicated to the “the revival of Cambodian cinema culture” in Cambodia (UniFrance Films Website).

Whether Mr. Eloy’s involvement in the forthcoming 2nd edition of the Cambodia International Film Festival (an effort which CamboFest applauds as part of a pluralistic Cambodian civil society in any case) was a factor in his spontaneous outreach can only be surmised.

The Cambodia Film Commission is an organization established with funding by Film France in cooperation with the French development organization, AFD (Groupe Agence Française de Développement), and “dedicated to the revival of Cambodian cinema culture”.

Inexplicably, the foreign CFC representative was unwilling or unable to clarify his statement which, if true, would adversely impact the ability of a Cambodian youth group to remain involved with a notable Cambodia-based film effort (CamboFest) as a vital training ground for the future “revival of Cambodian cinema culture” in Cambodia.

On August 24th, addressing the earlier statement made by the foreign CFC representative, the Director of the Cambodian Department of Cinema and Diffusion in Phnom Penh provided the following clarification to the CamboFest director and co-organizer:

Date:         Wed, 24 Aug 2011 07:09:21 -0700 [08/24/2011 09:09:21 AM
From:        Chansaya Sin
Subject:     Fw: CamboFest
Show this HTML in a new window?

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Chansaya Sin
To: The CamboFest Team
Subject: Re: CamboFest

Dear Jason,  
             The Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department will support you and want you to  involve in the next CamboFest film festival.

I want to meet you as soon as possible. Recently,We are preparing to International Film Festival at beginning December 2011.

Best Regards,

Sin Chan Saya
Director of
Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion
Mobile: (855) 12 864 769

The earlier, non-authorized statement by the foreign civil servant at the Cambodia Film Commission had been directly contradicted by an authorized Cambodian government staff member.

It was probable, nonetheless, that some individuals in the local Cambodian operational and funding environment had mistaken the foreign CFC representative’s (non) authority to make determinations on the part of the Cambodian government, and had subsequently declined consideration of CamboFest as a legitimate effort worthy of funding or support.

As a case in point, one notable local Phnom Penh movie exhibition venue, which had already provided CamboFest with a written letter of intent to offer venue support for the next CamboFest edition, abruptly ended contact with the CamboFest director around the time of the foreign CFC employee’s statement.

CamboFest had again sustained interference by foreigners in its effort to positively impact the Cambodian civil society - in this case, regrettably, by the employee of a foreign media development agency.

Therefore, to re-emphasize the position of the Cambodian government regarding CamboFest, the Director of the Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion clearly and definitively contradicts the earlier statement made by the foreign civil servant working at the CFC:

“The Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department will support you and want you to involve in the next CamboFest film festival.”

Mr. Eloy’s problematic communication was particularly disappointing, given that the founder of CamboFest had consulted the CFC’s co-founding body Film France, free of charge, in 2008 during research and development for the nascent Cambodia Film Commission before that organization’s founding.

At the time, in support of the Cambodian Film Commission’s agency’s aims and mission, CamboFest’s founder had produced a pro bono video featuring

a discussion with Film France’s Franck Priot (See the video on Youtube @

Interested persons, now and into the future, are therefore encouraged only to contact an authorized Cambodian government representative with questions regarding the legitimacy of any media or cultural undertaking or project taking place in the Cambodian environment.

In any case, two months later, during a late October meeting between Mr. Sin Chan Saya and the CamboFest director, Mr. Sin Chan Saya stated that Mr. Eloy ‘would be leaving’ the Cambodian Film Commission.

He further stated that he was aware of additional consternation and signs of disharmony, expressed by other media practitioners in Cambodia and beyond, which had been caused by the foreign civil servant’s behavior. He did not elaborate further.

CamboFest encourages all media practitioners and development staff working in Cambodia to adopt a contemporary, pluralistic, and inclusive approach to cultural and media efforts in the modern, independent Cambodian context.

CamboFest furthermore suggests that all foreigners in Cambodia, whether involved in the development sector or private sector, cease any destructive expressions of territorialism or rivalry that may cause damage to the stated common cause of assisting Cambodia’s development.

The Next Stage and Beyond

With the Cambodian government representative’s statement of support of CamboFest, in late 2011 the festival commenced an international traveling component. This marks the first time that a Cambodian film festival will travel internationally.

CamboFest would be making its first stop in New York City on December 6, 2011, with selections from CamboFest and its regional affiliate, Bangkok IndieFest, screening in that town of 8 million souls.

Cambodian, Thai, Laotian, and other international films from the CamboFest 4th edition are slated to screen on December 6, 2011, at the renowned Anthology Film Archives, an international center for the preservation, study,

and exhibition of film and video founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage.

(Further host venues around the world TBA as they are confirmed on an ongoing basis; interested venues can contact

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the YAHRD youth group has undertaken several screening events of their own since the conclusion of CamboFest’s 4th edition, using AV equipment provided by CamboFest’s individual contributors during fundraising efforts in 2010/2011.

Youth group representatives stated in late November 2011 that they intend to continue undertaking their own movie shows, as they had started doing following the conclusion of the 4th CamboFest event.

Following the 4th edition of CamboFest, the YAHRD Youth group undertakes its own autonomous screenings using gear on loan from CamboFest and contributed by individual worldwide supporters

Most recently, the group leader stated that H.E. Khieu Kanharith, Cambodian Minister of Information, had personally applauded their efforts and had encouraged them to continue to further promoting Khmer cinema as best they can.


This report should serve as one example of the types of challenges that may occur in any country that is seeking to develop its civil society through any number of foreign agencies and guests.

Local governments are advised to observe their own development situations, and in the case of observable disharmony or non-constructive rivalry or territorialism, intervene in order to educate and guide practitioners, actors, and institutions in a more suitable and constructive way.


Based on experiences producing the CamboFest 4th edition and related efforts in Cambodia, CamboFest makes the following recommendations in order to reasonably and effectively continue to develop a media and film industry in Cambodia.

For Non-Cambodian Agencies, Persons, and Governments Operating in Cambodia:

  • Kindly recognize Cambodia’s sovereignty as an independent nation, and accordingly defer in all cases to the Cambodian government’s authority to determine and approve media and cultural related efforts.

  • Interested 3rd party persons, practitioners, investors, funders, audience members, filmmakers, and others should only seek out an official Cambodian government position regarding the validity and legitimacy of any media events or efforts in the Cambodian territory, versus than relying on local hearsay or other non-authorized perspectives.

  • Foreign guests in Cambodia: kindly refrain from obstructing or otherwise interfering with any legitimate project or effort, of any scale or funding level, which has been approved by the Cambodian government.

For the Cambodian Government and Relevant Authorities:

  • Maintain reasonable oversight over foreign guests to ensure that behaviors are not detrimental to the overall development of the civil society. Current trends in Cambodia point to an increasingly distorted patron-client relationship, with some foreign elements exhibiting excessively autonomous, unmoderated, and counterproductive influence.

  • Educate foreign residents, guests, business owners, and representatives of development and political organizations, regarding the limitations of their authority to speak on behalf of relevant Cambodian government agencies.

  • Encourage independent, fully Cambodian staffed and funded efforts and organizations in order to build local confidence and capability over the long term, while offsetting the influence and reliance upon foreign elements.

CAMBOFEST, Cambodia Film Festival ( looks forward to its 5th edition, and welcomes contributors, sponsors, partners, filmmakers, fans, and supporters.

Get the latest updates by subscribing to the CamboFest mailing list


CamboFest co-organizers, colleagues and staff include:
Phun Sokunthearith, Co-organizer (DW-Akademie alumnus)
Mr. Jason “Camerado” Rosette, Founder/Co-organizer
The YAHRD Youth Group (
Mr. Suong Sambath, Logistics and Operations
...and others as the event continues to grow and evolve.

Decentralization in Cambodia

Film Commissions

Association of Film Commissions International:

An example of a successful and active US based film commission is the New Mexico Film Office:

Operating with limited funds, the Film Office maintains an objective, non-involved position in the local industry. The organization provides information and referrals to resources to all local vendors and staff, without bias or favoritism.

CamboFest’s 3rd Edition

Photo and video coverage & a look behind the scenes at the challenges and successes of the 3rd Edition of CamboFest:

(Downloadable Kindle version of this report available shortly on Amazon Digital – check back soon for download links HERE)