As Cambodia’s fledgling film industry struggles to gain traction in a region beleaguered by censorship and government interference, a leading Asian cinema pundit will tout the importance of film festivals to young filmmakers at a workshop in Phnom Penh today.
Sungho Park, who previously worked for the Busan Film Festival, was the manager for the Asian Film Academy and programmed last year’s Cambodia’s International Film Festival, said the importance of the industry’s ability to distribute its films to the regional market is critical if it wishes to succeed.
“When you talk about distribution, you’re talking about both domestic and international, it’s linked. If things are not working well domestically, it’s hard to penetrate the international market,” he said yesterday.
Thanks to domestically successful films such as last year’s Jailbreak, which has also enjoyed regional success after being sold to nine countries for distribution, Park said he was optimistic it could set a benchmark for other filmmakers.
“It’s is a very good sign, because if they keep doing this, they will make better and better films and have a higher chance with foreign sales,” he said.
However, he noted that Cambodian films faced an uphill struggle in many parts of the region, with countries such as China, Malaysia and Vietnam banning films from being screened for reasons ranging from communism to homosexuality.
“From China, they have such a strong censorship they cannot make ghost films, because it is against communism,” he said.
“It’s a unique case, but censorship directly and indirectly affects distribution in terms of import export.”
In Malaysia, the country’s film censorship board banned Beauty and the Beast earlier this year because it featured a gay character, with film-giant Disney refusing to create a conservative cut of the film.
Park also noted the dearth of technical skill many Cambodian filmmakers face in terms of marketing and selling their work once editing is finished, something he wishes to address at today’s workshop at the Cambodian Film Commission.
“They need to find a market or buyers, because they don’t have any network so far,” he said.
“They don’t have enough experiences in terms of world sales strategy.”
It was a sentiment that was echoed by Cambodian filmmaker Sok Visal, who said the overall quality of Cambodian films being released needed to improve before they could progress further on the international stage.
“I think it’s mostly a question of quality of the movie, the script, how good it is and how people in the audience and from the region can relate to it. I think that’s the biggest issue,” he said.
Park, however, said that film festivals were an important way to circumvent these issues, giving a chance to filmmakers to rub shoulders with industry elites and distributors, as well as help their work gain greater exposure than it otherwise would.
“Festivals are like magnets. They bring all these film people and directors together, so they can meet other directors, be friends, get inspiration, meet the audience and journalists who write about it, and financers, buyers, distributors. It’s a networking hub.” he said.
He noted that Cambodia was in a strong position compared with the rest of the region, with the success of the Cambodian International Film Festival comparable to its counterpart in Singapore.
This is thanks to featured guests including the festival director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, among others.
“The world is watching Cambodia now, because every year film distributors and festival organisers want to discover something new and now at the moment in Asia, it’s Cambodia and Nepal,” Park said.
Visal agreed that festivals were a key to unlocking the opportunities that Cambodian filmmakers could achieve for the industry.
“I think festivals create a platform for filmmakers to meet others and promote themselves with directors from around the world. It’s the best way to connect and screen your movie to audiences outside Cambodia,” he said.
Film Distribution Strategy in terms of Film Festival Circuit will be held today from 5:30-7:30pm at the Cambodian Film Commission, Street 200. Admission is free.