Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Brief Comparison of CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival and Bangkok IndieFest (Thailand)

In the intervening period between the 3rd and 4th editions of CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival (from 2009 to 2011) the CamboFest festival director established an independent film festival in neighboring Bangkok, the Bangkok IndieFest.

The production of an independent film festival event in Thailand with a similar style and approach as CamboFest, but in the more developed Thai environment, offers some useful and interesting observations and comparisons:

  • During production of the CamboFest, a highly variable and arbitrary degree of intervention occurred on the part of the Cambodian government, with specific requests to observe and approve media. In the Thai context, with regards to the Bangkok IndieFest, no engagement with the Thai government was openly required. 
The only explicit requirement in the Thai context, articulated through unofficial channels (in this case, through Bangkok IndieFest Thai production staff and a U.S. embassy sponsor in Bangkok) was the absolute necessity to observe respect with regard to the King and Royal family – i.e., no media content could be presented that would diminish or negatively portray the King or Royal family. 

  • The 3rd edition of the CamboFest event sustained significant interference by foreigners (expatriates) whose core business operations were based on the organized exploitation of motion picture IP through unlicensed (“pirate”) cinema exhibition.
No such interference occurred in the Thai context, insofar that exploitation of motion picture IP by foreigners, with the level of organization and persistence present in the Cambodian environment, does not observably exist. At the time of the launch of Bangkok IndieFest, here were no foreigner-operated non-diligent venues in Bangkok (or Thai-operated ones either) which might be a source of any pro-filmmaker backlash in the Thai environment.

Organized promotion and exploitation of motion picture titles in Thailand occur in legal, licensed venues, such as SF Cinemas, the Major complexes, or RCA House Cinema, with licensing of titles actually specifying Thailand as a designated territory in deal memos (versus 3rd party, non-Cambodia territory ‘’grey area” usages of big screen Hollywood films which is present in today’s Cambodian context)

In general, the relationship of foreigners to each sovereign state (Cambodia and Thailand) are different due to their greatly varied historical and cultural backgrounds; it is arguable that the Thai view of foreign expatriates has been influenced by the lack of a historical colonial presence, versus its neighbors, including Cambodia, in former Indochina. 

The role of foreigners in either society is beyond the scope of this report but it’s observable that tolerances and freedoms granted to foreigners in either society are markedly different. 

On a practical level, it’s much easier for a foreigner to secure a long term visa to stay in Cambodia, versus securing a long term visa to stay in Thailand. 

CamboFest/Bangkok IndieFest founder Jason Rosette simultaneously maintained one-year multi entry visas for both Cambodia and Thailand in order to produce both festival events in their different stages of production (simultaneously), during the overlapping period following the conclusion of the 3rd edition of CamboFest, needing to travel back and forth with great frequency to manage both events in their various states of production.

The Thai visa required sponsorship by a Thai-based company and a host of background materials; the Cambodian visa requires only that a foreign guest continues to pay.

It’s likely that the lack of any ‘filtering effect’ due to a lax visa process in Cambodia allows a more varied demographic of visitors to reside there for the long term, bringing with them a ‘colored’ range of unusual and nonconventional behavioral aspects (i.e., hoax ads placed in local newspapers to disrupt government approved events) that may not otherwise be present in guests who would be more selectively invited to reside in another sovereign state.

  • The Thai film industry, and therefore the Thai film festival environment, is more fully developed than that in Cambodia, with many of the key festival efforts helmed by Thai nationals. On the other hand, the number of festival events in Cambodia is limited, and they are typically foreign run & founded. In the Cambodian context, a significant degree of jostling and rivalry is observable (more so than in the Thai context) with different foreign actors seeking dominant exposure in the limited press and among the cultural awareness of residents in Cambodia.

With the famous abundance and density of non-governmental organizations in Cambodia (versus Thailand), many of the film festival events in the Cambodian context are in some capacity extensions of foreign state or non-state agencies, or NGOs, with CamboFest being the only definitively non-aligned (independent) effort currently operating in Cambodia.

Accordingly, most festival platforms in Cambodia are likely to bear financial and political linkages to their patron agencies, with agendas and media content reflecting this factor.