CamboFest, Cambodia Film festival founder and co-director Jason Rosette describes his first unusual encounter with the Cambodia International Film Festival and its affiliates in 2008
“My first unusual encounter with the Cambodia International Film Festival and its affiliates was in 2008. At that time, the CamboFest had just concluded one of its editions, and I returned to Phnom Penh to attend a community meeting to provide guidance and information for the incipient Cambodia Film Commission. The CFC which was in its exploration stages at the time, with formative parties including Film France, Unifrance, The Agency for French Development, and other FR (and some EU) Centric agencies involved.
A meeting was announced at the Bophana Center, and active and interested local media producers were invited.
I attended and shared advice and suggestions based on my experience with the New Mexico Film Office, with whom I had liaised five years prior while making my 2nd feature film, ‘Lost in New Mexico‘. I also met with Franck Priot from Film France to provide additional information, as he expressed interest in learning about film commissions. (*Franck stated that he had little knowledge of this area, although I was told later after our meeting, that he had actually authored some materials on this very subject back in 2006.)
During that time, I even made a video promoting the forthcoming Cambodia Film Commission, featuring Franck Priot. I believed that everyone involved was mutually friendly, supportive, and helpful. However, I would soon learn otherwise…
Back then, there was no Cambodia International Film Festival; we only had the CamboFest, which was established in 2007, although of course I anticipated that other events would soon follow our lead.
Sure enough, In 2009, I received an email from a person named Allan Cheung, claiming to be a sponsor interested in supporting the CamboFest. He urgently wanted to meet, despite my request to schedule for the next day so we arranged a meeting at a local cafe that evening at 9PM.
Allan Chueng, representing an organization called Golden Aroma from Hong Kong, seemed more interested in operational details, however, as evidenced by his numerous very specific questions about the CamboFest budget and staff. Of course, I got the sense that he wanted to start his own film festival rather than being a sponsor. I even asked him directly if he wanted to start a film festival, but he denied any such interest or plan.
We talked until around 10 o’clock, and then we parted ways. I didn’t receive any follow-up messages from him.
The next day, while at the post office in Phnom Penh, I ran into Miriam Arthur, an aspiring film practitioner in Phnom Penh. I’d first encountered Mariam at the 2006 Bangkok Film Market, where she was working as a volunteer; when she noticed the booth that I’d set up with my Cambodian associate producer, Chan Norn to promote Cambodia as a film location, she excitedly exclaimed ‘Wow, Cambodia!’
A few months later, and she had relocated to Phnom Penh.
Anyway, Mariam mentioned off-hand that the launch party of the Cambodian Film Commission – an organization that I’d tried to assist so extensively and in good faith back at the community launch meeting at the Bophana Center – had taken the place the day before. Yet, despite the time and effort and knowledge I’d put into assisting their effort – I had not been invited or even notified.
It was now obvious why:
Mariam revealed that Alan Cheung and Cedric Eloy, the director of the Cambodia Film Commission, were planning to start a Cambodia International Film Festival after all.
This confirmed my suspicion that Allan had the day before been probing for information about the CamboFest event in an adversarial way, specifically for the purpose of providing data for his co-event with Cedric.
Yet…they could have just openly asked me and I could have shared information as best I could. In my view, there’s no reason to be reflexively sneaky as a nominal, defacto way of operating when an honest, open dialogue can achieve so much more, while generating good will and a spirit of cooperation.
Miriam’s information made me realize that I had intentionally been excluded from the launch of the Cambodian Film Commission for this very purpose – my helpful (naive?) earlier consultations to Franck and others notwithstanding.
This was my first experience with the Cambodia Film Commission, and this incident did unfortunately set the tone for all future interactions. Then-director Cedric Eloy’s approach would always be ‘oblique’, exclusionary and problematic for us; this appeared to align with his training in French government administration, and the aims of the foreign agencies for which he worked.
Cementing my understanding further, I later learned from German Embassy staff at a film festival I’d participated in slightly later (as a filmmaker) in 2010 in Vientiene, Laos, that there was indeed a French government mandate to attempt to dominate the cinema sector in former Indochina. There sat those German embassy staffers, all of us drinking beer Lao after the day’s screenings, when they glumly volunteered this information in a resigned way.
This new revelation aligned with what I had personally my experienced with Allan Chung and Cedric Eloy’s new effort to launch the Cambodia International Film Festival.
The tactics utilized, however (such as Allan’s posing as a sponsor to gather information, for example) would be utterly new to me.
Anyway, this was my very first – perhaps naive – experience as a genuinely helpful individual with experience in the film sector, as I tried to support the launch of the Cambodia Film Commission in 2008-2009.”