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CSFF Wishes to Continue Being a Launchpad for Young Cambodian Filmmakers

PHNOM PENH: The Chaktomuk Short Film Festival (CSFF) made its return to cinemas and offline screenings this past weekend. In its 11th edition, the festival screened 55 short films, including 36 local entries, from 25-28 November 2022 at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Legend Premium Noro Mall and Major Cineplex by Smart – Sorya.

Hundreds of guests attended the festival’s opening ceremony on Friday, 25 November, at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, including officials from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, filmmakers, prominent figures in the local film industry, and members of the media.

Sum Sithen, CSFF’s Festival Director in 2022, stated that the festival wishes to continue encouraging young filmmakers to showcase their work and present fresh content on the big screen. He said while CSFF began in 2012 as a simple film contest, its core objective of highlighting independent works from young filmmakers, especially in Cambodia, still remains the same.

“Whenever we organize a festival, we don’t just showcase the films, we also promote [filmmakers’] works and highlight their achievements,” said Sithen. “This year, we would like to do the same with new filmmakers, [but] of course, we still welcome seasoned filmmakers to submit their works to us.”

Film director Ruth Sansitny was the 11th CSFF's international programmer. Speaking on his approach to curation, he said while each film had to meet a certain quality standard to be eligible, more importantly, he was looking for films that dealt with subject matters that could resonate with people in Cambodia.

“For me, the more important thing was that the films discuss things, issues that are relevant to Cambodia,” he said. “So things that relate to, like, what is the legacy of colonialism? What is good development versus not good development? Women's rights, gender equality, things like this.

“If the films represented, in an interesting and inquisitive way, issues that we are dealing with in Cambodia right now, I found them worthy of being brought to Chaktomuk and being screened to a larger audience, so we could reflect on the role of films and the role of art, and also reflect on where we are going as a society.”

This year, CSFF received a total of 185 local and international short film submissions, from which 55 were selected by its festival programmers for screening. Two separate juries, one each for the national and international categories, were then tasked with selecting the winners for the festival’s seven prizes and awards, including the top prize of Best Cambodian Short Film.

The jury evaluating the top six national films this year was comprised of two of CSFF’s past champions – 2013 winner, Ly Polen, and 2015 winner, Chap Somchanrith. Sithen said that this year’s local jury was purposely chosen from CSFF’s ‘champion group’ to help connect past winners with new, up-and-coming filmmakers.

“We like to connect different generations of filmmakers to give each other input on their stories and on new content,” said Sithen. “The idea is to pass on the skillset from generation to generation through this judging process.”

Remarking on the 2022 submissions, jury member Chap Somchanrith said he found that some of the films this year tried to explore more daring topics that are not normally discussed in Cambodian society.

“This year’s submissions were different,” he said. “Some have tried to do something that's never been done before. They’ve touched on topics that, I wouldn’t say are taboo, but are probably a bit sensitive in Cambodia.”

Regarding jury evaluation, Somchanrith said it can be a fairly subjective process, as jury members each have their own preferences and filmmaking sensibilities, which then come together for a final consensus.

“For me, personally… I look for stories, I look for style and cinematography and the themes or what the filmmaker has to say, and I more or less try to balance [these factors] out,” he said. “Some directors might focus more on style, [and care less] about the story… [I look for] something [like the filmmaker’s own signature style]. But for me, personally, stories come first and foremost, and style, cinematography, editing, sound – those come later.”

Since CSFF is an international film festival, it also acts as a platform for Cambodian filmmakers to connect with other filmmakers around the world. Importantly, the festival also strives to help showcase the winning films on an international stage through its partner festivals, acting as a gateway for local films to break into the international market.

“We like to see the crossover between content from different countries and Cambodia, and we would like to see this idea pursued in the years to come, between Cambodian and international filmmakers,” said Sithen.

Sok Chanrado, one half of the duo behind ‘Sound of the Night’ – one of the six local finalist short films – said he thinks CSFF is a valuable forum for young filmmakers to learn what makes a festival-worthy film.

“For me, it's really important for young people who love film and want to know more about international shorts, [to learn] what [these films] look like, and how they [are made], how they are submitted, how they are selected... [what programmers find interesting] to select at festivals,” he said.

Chanrado himself is no stranger to festivals. ‘Sound of the Night’ originally premiered at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in 2021, and has also been screened at a number of other festivals around the world, including the Cambodia International Film Festival (CIFF) earlier this year.

“I think, generally, film festivals are very important, not just in Cambodia, [but] all around the world.... it's a chance for young filmmakers to show their new work. They [can show] their new [short] films at festivals if they don't have a chance to make a big film like a feature film. Chaktomuk, to me, is a really important [platform]."

Ty Tepnimol, also known as David Tito, was another one of the six local finalists, with his short film ‘Ms. Client.’ Tito was also last year’s CSFF champion, winning the title of Best Cambodian Short Film in 2021 with ‘Red Pot.’

“I think the most important thing about the Chaktomuk Short Film Festival is not only the networking, or that people come to sell [their films], but how filmmakers can come and enjoy cinema and get to know each other more,” he said. “We are a small country, so we need to expand more of our connections and share more about cinema.”

The importance of festivals like CSFF seems to be widely understood by members of the industry.

“I think festival like these are very important, especially for developing countries like Cambodia because we don't have a lot of things going on in the film industry,” said Somchanrith. “Especially for young people who are trying to get into the industry, trying to make their own films. It's a platform for them to sort of kick off their careers. Because that's how I started my filmmaking career as well, which was through this festival. I made a film, and then I won, and that's how my career started.”

“Chaktomuk Film Festival is the longest running film festival in Cambodia, and from its inception, it has always served as a springboard for local filmmakers to show their work and become more empowered in that process,” said Sansitny. “…I think there's many, even many of the well-known directors today, [who] came from this platform. It plays a big role in helping them gain confidence and then hopefully launch them onto an international stage.”

Festival director, Sum Sithen, definitely thinks CSFF will continue to play a major role in building up future filmmakers in Cambodia.

"We would like Chaktomuk Short Film Festival to become a go-to platform for every Cambodian filmmaker,” remarked Sithen. “That means if they want to showcase their work, they would think of this festival. The idea is to [get connected with] their first work, and then the festival will serve as a bridge for their film career. We have done this for the last eleven years. We hope to repeat this spirit or tradition in the years to come.”

The 11th CSFF concluded on Monday, 28 November, with ‘Sound of the Night’ by Sok Chanrado and Vann Kongkea winning Best Cambodian Short Film, ‘Sunrise in My Mind’ by San Danech winning second place, and ‘Ms. Client’ by Ty Tepnimol (David Tito) winning the audience choice award for local short film.

For more information about CSFF and to see the full list of the 2022 winners, check out the festival's social media platforms.


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