First feminist film festival to empower and educate

Mark Tilly / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
The Motogirltour guides will also be making their way to the festival. Supplied

When starting their own motorbike tour company in Phnom Penh, Renou Chea and Horm Sreynich said their saving grace was something as simple as wearing a backpack while taking male customers on their tours. 
 
“How do the customers sit on the back, are they going to touch us, we don’t know,” Sreynich said. 
 
“We made the rule to keep our bag in the middle, so customer can hold the handlebars, so we’re in a safe line and our parents are satisfied and it all goes together.”
 
Finding simple solutions to the many challenges they face as women in Cambodia is one of the key ideas they plan on discussing at the first session of the Phnom Penh Feminist Film Festival, which is premiering this Sunday at the L Bar. 
 
While Sreynich, Chea and the other members of Motogirltour have the support of their families, simply picking up customers from their hotels highlights the scrutiny women in Cambodian society face when interacting with men and the world around them. 
 
“When I go to pick up customers from the hotel, when I stop my motorbike, I always hear talk from the other guys around the hotel. They try to make us disappointed and uncomfortable,” Chea said. 
 
Held over three nights, each with a respective theme covering gender-based violence, dismantling stereotypes and LGBT issues, the festival’s organisers want to provide a safe space for women to discuss these issues and strengthen the community. 
 
“I just hope it makes the feminist movement in Cambodia more visible to everyone, to let everyone know that there are people here and there is a network and you can build something together,” said festival organiser Charis Uster. 
 
The festival will screen a selection of Cambodian and international feminist films, as well as hold discussions pointedly featuring female Cambodian bloggers, filmmakers and entrepreneurs, according to organiser Olivia Dehnavi. 
 
“We’ve been to cultural events before about Cambodia and there have been four white people on stage and we didn’t want that,” she said. 
 
“We wanted to have Cambodian voices at the forefront, which is why we asked a lot of Cambodian speakers to come and talk about Cambodian issues and we’re going to try and take a step back from the stage.” 
 
To help gain an understanding of some of the more prominent issues Cambodian women face today, the festival’s five organisers conducted a dozen interviews with Cambodian women from a range of backgrounds and ages. 
 
Uster said the interviews highlighted the multifaceted and pivotal role Cambodian women play in society, despite a severe lack of representation. 
 
“They carry a big portion of the economy with the garment industry, they have a lot of responsibilities in the family, but then on the other side there is not a lot of support for women’s rights,” she said. 
 
“There’s not a lot of protection for women, when it comes to the law and just in the culture.” 
 
These attitudes were on full display in April, when Cambodian actress Denny Kwan was banned from working in the entertainment industry for a year by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for being “too sexy”. 
 
This was in accordance to the Ministry’s Artist’s Ethical Code of Conduct, which coaxes artists to dress in accordance to “national identity” and with “dignity”. 
 
Uster and Dehnavi hope the Festival can break through the cultural stigmas surrounding women, in the hope that educational and uplifting discussions and ideas can be shared in an accessible context. “We thought that cinema itself is very accessible and enjoyable, it’s very inclusive, everyone can enjoy it and it’s a way to talk about certain issues to a broad audience, which is why we chose a film festival as the framework for it,” Uster said. 
 
Uster noted that education and empowerment were the key themes that she hopes women, and men, will take away from the festival, adding that women were ready for change and hopefully society will soon follow. 
 
“Culturally ready or not, if Cambodian women stopped and saw how much of this country they’re carrying, then Cambodia will have to be ready for a feminist movement,” she said. 
 
Meanwhile, Sreynich and Chea hope their story can inspire women to find solutions to the problems they face in order to find independence and acceptance from those around them. 
 
“We don’t want to rely on men to support us all the time and take care of us, we just want to be ourselves. If you can earn your own money, you can make your own choices,” Chea said. 
 
“Don’t be afraid and try to find a solution to make it happen.” 
 
The Phnom Penh Feminist Film Festival will be held over three Sundays, starting from Sunday the 18th at 5pm at the L Bar, #18a Street 93, Lakeside. Admission is free, reservations recommended.

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