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The CamboFest Story: a behind the scenes look at Cambodia's first internationally recognized film festival, CamboFest

...regarding the unusual and mysterious events surrounding the 3rd Edition of CAMBOFEST, Cambodia Film Festival -
"His Majesty the King-Father asked me to thank you on His behalf. He read with great interest your report about your activities in reviving the cinema industry in Cambodia." - From the cabinet of H.M. The King-Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia "I found the write-up, below, absolutely mesmerizing" - Mr. Balen, Indochine Law (KL/Bangkok/Phnom Penh)

CAMBOFEST: Film and Video Festival of Cambodia Year 3 / 2009 Edition ( /, Cambodia‟s first international independent movie festival - now entering its 4th year - took place on December 4-6 in Kampot, Cambodia. This year's festival met or exceeded most achievement goals set from the previous editions: the alldigital throughput was the first of its kind for a festival environment in the region, and the festival

attracted more international guests than previous years.

The 'Royal', Kampot, Cambodia (CamboFest Year 3 - 2009 Edition)
One additional met goal which was not originally anticipated, was the discovery and revival of the preKhmer rouge cinema house in Kampot, the „Royal‟, on Cambodia‟s South Coast, which had lain unused since 1988. This revival required the installation of a custom-made screen and power system, as both components were absent in the cinema house itself. Ambient light issues, from the mostlydestroyed roof, necessitated the use of a large venue projection system.

Significant ambient light issues necessitated a 7000+ lumens large venue projector loaned from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh

CamboFest staff (above) innovate to produce a film festival in the challenging Cambodian environment; screenshot from '2001: a Space Odyssey' (fair use / for demonstration purposes) One unfortunate aspect of CamboFest‟s 3rd year event in Kampot, however, was the unprecedented level of interference originating from foreign expatriates (“Barangs”), who were determined to undermine the event.

Malicious foreigners attempting to disrupt Cambodia's IP-friendly, government approved international cinema event: CAMBOFEST, year 3 (2009 Edition) The interference at the 2009 edition took many forms: 1) Hoax classified ads placed on online bulletin boards and forums with CamboFest staff phone #‟s listed, presumably in an attempt to harass or tie up phone lines. 2) Hoax classified ads printed in one of the local daily newspapers, announcing the fake 'cancellation' of the event 3) Phony press releases sent to publications in Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan announcing the fake 'cancellation' of this year‟s CamboFest, a Cambodian government-approved project – and currently, still Cambodia‟s only currently functioning international film event* (*as of this original writing...since that time the Cambodia International Film Festivalhas also come onto the scene)

4) Physical Confrontations against CamboFest staff

CamboFest 2007 venue manager Barry Vis, visiting from Amsterdam in mid January 2009, upon hearing the incredible tales of intrigue which surrounded the 2009 festival, was at first in utter disbelief. Only when actual copies of emails and text messages were produced could the whole campaign of attempted sabotage be comprehended.

Who was behind all this? Several parties, all foreigner expatriates, guests in the Kingdom working in coordination to disrupt a Cambodian government approved cultural event. (something the Cambodian government wasn't happy about).

Thanks to the assistance of the Microsoft account investigation department which traced a bogus hotmail account, two IT specialists, and a private investigator, the identities of several of those responsible have been 100% verified.

This includes the expatriate founders of a small pirate movie venue in Phnom Penh called 'The Flicks', that at the time of these incidents (2009), commonly exhibited movies without permissions from filmmakers or studios. The proprietors disagreed with CamboFest‟s pro-filmmaker / pro-IP activism, which, while designed to establish some standard of viability in Cambodia in order eventually attract legitimate cinema venues, also shined a spotlight on bogus motion picture business practices and the organized misappropriation & exhibition of filmmaker‟s work in Cambodia.

“I thought the foreigners here wanted to develop the cinema industry in Cambodia, not to destroy it”.
(Barry Vis, CamboFest 2007 Venue Manager) At the urging of movie fans in Cambodia and abroad who want to understand the behind-the-scenes dimensions of producing an independent movie festival in the current Cambodian context, elements of the “CamboFest Story” are herewith presented. This timeline may be seen as a testament to the challenges involved in working to revive the flagging motion picture industry in one developing county, challenges that were offset at the 3rd edition by distinct signs of progress – the rediscovery and revival of a defunct vintage Cambodian cinema, for instance. As might be seen in the following reconstruction of events, the most notable (and unexpected) challenges in producing the Cambodian government-approved 2009 event stemmed not from corruption in the Cambodian government, or lack of motion picture industry infrastructure, but from concerted, coordinated attempts at undermining the event, carried out by foreigners living in Cambodia. These incidents, while obviously not helpful, did not derail or stop the 3rd edition of CamboFest. To the contrary, the incidents are noted and “held aloft” – like shrunken, trophy heads - as enduring mementos from Cambodia‟s international independent movie festival, CamboFest. “It’s a compliment to the festival – some foreigners in Cambodia wanted to bring it down. They threw everything they had at it, but it still went on as planned. And it was a remarkable event” (CamboFest 2007 Venue Manager Barry Vis) For those movie fans who didn‟t attend the CamboFest 2009 event due to the phony classified ads or other misinformation (see below) – our apologies, we wish you could have been there and see you next time! Mr. Phun Sokunthearith (aka, Mr. Tol) Suong Sambath J Rosette Mr. Narith Hoo All our volunteers...and the rest of The CamboFest Team

Feature Documentary - ‘Agent Orange: 30 Years Later’ Dir., John Trinh Feature Fiction - ‘Sky in December’ Dir., Hiroshi Toda Short Documentary - ‘Schritt fur Schritt’ Dir., Vojtech Pokorny Short Fiction - ‘Surprise!’ Dir., Fabrice Maruca Local Cambodian Showcase - ‘Shadow of Darkness’ Dir., Yvon Hem Universal Language - ‘Mime vs. Junkie’ Dir., Olesia Shewchuk Social Issue Movie - ‘Meltdown in Tibet’ Dir., Michael Buckley Very Short Movie - ‘LoopLoop’ Dir., Patrick Bergeron Animation (Int’l) - ‘INK’ Dir., Justine Wallace Animation (Local) - ‘Mosquito in Dreaming’ Dir., Phanith Norm

Rivalries and territorial behavior in the expatriate art scene in Cambodia can lead to "clashing" of events. Unlike normal developed countries, which can sustain different events in different cities or locals simultaneously, the expectation in Cambodia by some expatriate participants in the art & culture scene has often been, curiously, that only one cultural event may take place in the entire country at any given time (lest “clashing” occur). NOVEMBER 26, 2009 It‟s the leadup to CamboFest 2009. A lot of prep work is still at hand as we wrangle venues, locate and build gear, train staff, and do other preparations. Although we had set our dates over a year ago, and had originally intended to hold the festival in Phnom Penh, we‟ve changed locations due to the unexpected discovery of a vintage cinema house in Kampot that would provide some great magic for our 3rd edition. The new location: the 'Royal', a popular local landmark in its heydey in the 1960‟s, which sputtered to a halt during the Lon Nol regime, and then fell into the into the abyss during the Pol Pot era.

The 'Royal' in Kampot, Cambodia: built in the 1950's, it enjoyed its heydey in the 1960's. The movie house was shuttered during the Khmer Rouge era, minus roof and one wall (destroyed during the war). The 'Royal' briefly re-opened from 1985-1988, but was shuttered again until its revival for the 2009 Edition of CamboFest ** Our goal this year: to bring the old cinema house back to life ** Few local foreigners know about the „Royal‟: we only just stumbled upon it accidentally while scoping out other vintage cinema houses in the area. No other foreigner I‟d talked to knew of the existence of the „Royal‟, at least none that I had talked with in Phnom Penh or Kampot - not even long time expats. (Of course, local Cambodians in Kampot knew it well…) Most Barangs, even including some longtime Kampot residents, assume our intended venue to be the larger, more decrepit (on the inside) vintage cinema house, the 'Makara', on Kampot‟s main street. (Even the Phnom Penh Post publishes a photo of the 'Makara' in one of their issues, believing it to be the 'Royal'). I‟m now busy running around the ricefields and outskirts of Kampot, sometimes with my trusty staffers Narith Hoo or Phun Sokuntearith (aka „Mr. Tol‟), sometimes on my own. I find myself haggling and dealing with pleasant but corrupt local Sangkat officials, speaking in Khmer as best I can, while handing out a little under-the-table payola as needed. After living in Cambodia for nearly 5 years, I can speak fairly well, but not fluently, so it‟s still a bit of a challenge for me to deal with these guys when I need to on my own – But I have no choice: the show must go on. I‟ve got a commitment to the participating filmmakers and my Cambodian colleagues and staff, and a strong desire to help develop the movie industry in my adopted home country - or, the country that 'adopted' me. It‟s tough, puzzling work though. No one knows anything, not even folks in the local government. We hire one local motodop to take us to the Sangkat office, but he soon gets lost, vanishing down a dusty trail which leads to Kampot‟s 'Tit Mountain'* (*our nickname, not Cambodian translation) We still can‟t find a couple of the crucial Sangkat offices. One of them is vaguely said to be somewhere out on the edge of town beyond one of the ricefields, but that‟s all we have to go on. We call the inscrutable Kampot Culture Department to get directions; they inform us they don‟t actually

know where it is - but that we should “go left”. CamboFest staffer Narith Hoo (who will later helm our custom made CamboFest loudspeaker-moto promotional efforts during the festival) and I set out to find it. After many dead ends, we arrive at last at a small wooden house with a Cambodian flag on the far side of a local ricefield: the missing Sangkat office! It‟s closed til 2 or 2:30, so we rest a bit. We‟re tired but satisfied that we almost have the final stamp we need. The rice looks great – it‟s luscious, green, and cool. The whole field rustles and waves to us. NOVEMBER 27, 2009 The first of a series of coordinated efforts to harass the festival appear about a week before the actual event. Hoax classified ads are placed by prankster third parties on the local wesite, a Cambodia-based online forum and bulletin board where users can advertise items for sale, make job and events announcements, and conduct and pursue other services. It's a handy website, and I've used it plenty of times myself to promote CamboFest locally. Callers ring and send me text messages asking about iPods, cars, and other 'Phantom items' I have for sale. Inquiries much later with helpful Krawma general manager Ken White, owner of the BT website, indicate that – with the sheer number of new ads normally coming in and bumping out the old – a new ad would only stay “fresh” a number of hours. Therefore, some dedicated misanthrope(s) were actually sitting there, nothing better to do than to post a continuous stream of fake ads to try to harass CamboFest. 8:17 AM - Someone from phone #85515832XXX text messages to inquire: “Hi sir, I saw ur advertising for sell iPhon, iPhone 3G or 2G? How is the capacity? Thanks” Others call inquiring about other phantom items “for sale”, with my own phone numbers listed as the contact – the intention apparently being to tie up and harass our phone lines. I call and kindly ask them to remove any ads with my number listed…the Cambodian staff say they will try to handle. On the plus side: some positive coverage of CamboFest appears in the Phnom Penh Post “7Days” lifestyle section that day as well. The article is entitled Kampot rolls out the red carpet, by freelance reporter Dianne Janes. (It will be the only story coverage of CamboFest to appear in any of the local newspapers from that point on.) The article is truncated somewhat from my original responses to Dianne‟s email interview questions. My responses regarding the actual, factually true dysfunctional state of the movie industry in Cambodia (with which later BBC coverage concurs) do not appear in the final interview. This is not surprising; the overall trend to date by most (foreign) journalists, lifestyle writers, and “what‟s happening in Cambodia” websites and guidebooks is to maintain a notion that that the movie industry in Cambodia is robust, is alive and well, is “making a comeback”. The fact is: the film industry in Cambodia is currently not viable for a variety of structural reasons. This is not just my position, it‟s also the position of numerous Cambodian producers I‟ve spoken with as well – legendary Cambodian filmmaker Yvon Hem states as much in a recent interview. Piracy, against which CamboFest has taken an activist stand, to the point that the fest and its founder have taken a lot of heat in the expatriate art & film scene in Cambodia where unlicensed screenings are the norm* (* three of the most popular Western oriented movie venues in Cambodia operate well promoted, overt pirate screenings) is the number one killer of the movie industry here. One of the main goals of CamboFest is to attempt to introduce some normalcy to the Cambodian industry here by producing an “actual movie festival”, an event which gains the permission of all

participating filmmakers, producers, or authorized copyright reps, i.e., distributors. This is standard in the international film festival world, but is actually considered to be an oddity in Cambodia and in the expatriate enclaves there. As mentioned, some of the most popular expatriateoriented venues in Cambodia are not diligent in this area. Basically, few folks bother gaining the rights to screen movies, or to even simply ask the filmmaker/producer, who would often agree to a reduced rate or pro-bono screening in Cambodia, understanding that the territory is probably not able to pay full price for film rentals. Why don't they secure permissions? Because it's a hassle: it's easier to screen it without asking or securing permissions.

"No one knows and no one cares".

"This is Cambodia". Anyone who is activist or speaks out against it takes heat as a result, or worse, their project (in this case, 'festival') gets attacked. Lest folks in Cambodia complain about not otherwise being able to watch movies on the big screen, why not use the following approach: gather some friends, set up as big a screen as you want, and screen a movie – that‟s fine, it‟s considered “home use”. What‟s problematic is when a movie title is exploited and publicly advertised in an organized way, in order to generate profit from it either at the door or by selling food or drinks/concessions - or to attract grant money from donors. An understanding of the mechanics of a properly functioning motion picture industry is generally lacking in Cambodia: some educational interventions could be useful to raise awareness in this area. Basically, the product (the movie) costs money to produce and therefore must recoup its expenses via exhibition or sales of units, ie, DVDs or VCDs. If the product is being copied or otherwise sold (i.e., through bogus exhibition or institutionalized replication of a DVD or VCD), then the producers can‟t recoup their costs – and they won‟t produce more product. As a corollary, when piracy is as rampant as it is in Cambodia – whether through replication and sale of DVDs/VCDs, illegal broadcasts, or through bogus overt commerical IP-abuse (better known as "piracy") by foreign-run exhibition venues, the motion picture industry centers outside of Cambodia look towards this minor territory, weigh the apparently significant risks of operating here versus the potential (modest) revenues, and hesitate to invest or even to allow normal licensing of their first-run titles. And so the cycle continues… Many guests in Cambodia observe the increasing number of venues and screens and “movie events”, especially in Phnom Penh, and proceed to equate that perception with the establishment of a bonafide cinema "industry” - not knowing (or bothering to know) that the great bulk of exhibition here is bogus, and so that the existence of a real movie industry is a mirage. Ironically, various government agencies, cultural institutions, and foundations, in seeking venues to conduct their programs in Phnom Penh, will look the other way even when their venue of choice is commonly involved in bogus exhibition: it's a matter of geopolitical expediency.

Journalists, who might otherwise serve a useful purpose of investigating and highlighting the issue, tend to whitewash or ignore it (for whatever reasons).

As a case in point: the Phnom Penh Post hailed the opening of Phnom Penh's first openly commercial

pirate venue The Flicks , providing significant coverage upon its launch. The actual effect of such coverage is to undermine – to whatever degree - the efforts of legitimate cinema practitioners in Cambodia and the emergence of a legitimate movie industry. But my own experiences in producing CamboFest over the past three years have led me to conclude that standard industry models, when applied in the Cambodian context, may not prove to be workable here for a number of years to come.

Differing perspectives on rights issues in motion picture exhibition in Cambodia can lead to conflict; CamboFest founder Jason Rosette fights to ward off IP-abusing rivals Anyway, back to the story: while I‟m in Kampot, hustling to get all the permissions for the festival, Post Reporter Dianne Janes requests a screener for one of the movies selected to play on Day 3. (“In Transit” by Leigh Rodgers). I tell Diane that I‟m not in Phnom Penh now, that had to head back to Kampot to deal with the permissions again unexpectedly, but I‟ll get her something to look at when I get back to Phnom Penh. Soon after, I get a text about one of the ads. Someone‟s asking if “my car is still for sale”. I respond that there is no car – somebody‟s placing the ad as a joke or prank. I ask who it is. The reply: “It‟s “DJ Devi Vanhon from Love FM”, (a local Phnom Penh English language radio station) and she adds: “Have a safe trip home”. I thought that was a bit strange. The only person I‟d spoken with – the only person who knew I was in Kampot - was Phnom Penh Post freelance reporter Dianne Janes. I reply to the DJ: “I am home” - (I feel at home in Kampot as much as I do in Phnom Penh) A few more calls come in about different items for sale, but it‟s nothing more than a minor hassle at this point. I even begin texting callers back: “We will be displaying all the items for sale at CAMBOFEST, December 4-6 see for info!” NOVEMBER 27, 2009, Cont.

That same day, in the „7 Days” section, the first of two hoax classified ads appears in the Phnom Penh Post. This first ad is relatively harmless: a fake ad for a Honda Dream (motorcycle), with a toogood-to-be-true offer of $550 and an apparently urgent need to sell. As with the ads, my phone number* is listed as a contact, in an apparent attempt to tie up our phone lines. (*I find out later that both of my only two phone numbers are listed – so there‟s no chance that it‟s a random typo). At this point it seems like someone with too much time on their hands are undertaking some kind of prank routine - not sure why at this point, because so far the hoaxes are just minor irritations, with no real "message", apparent purpose, or effect on operations. I send an email inquiry to the Post‟s business manager, Stephane Davos: J Rosette Fri, Nov 27, 2009 at 1:53 PM Someones apparently placed an ad in the Post's 7 days section with myphone # listed (011 736 206); though not terribly troubling, it's either a typo or a prank, because I placed no such ad Can you pls look into this? It's a bit distracting, though I'm flattered folks think I have the means to possess so many items for sale... I think the ad is for a Honda Dream - not sure maybe some other items. Can you pls also tell me who placed this ad, I'd like to drop them a line to discuss ;) Thanks, Jason Rosette # 011 736 206 Add star Stephane Devos Fri, Nov 27, 2009 at 2:09 PM Reply | Reply to all | Forward | Print | Delete | Show original Hi Jason, Sorry for the mishap. It will probably be a typo. I don't see how this person would sell his stuff otherwise. I'll have someone look into it. Thanks for your understanding. Stephane Devos Business Development Manager I also send an SMS to the editor of the Post, Seth Meixner, asking him what‟s up with the ad.

At 1:53PM he texts back: “which page?” Idea: when we get back to Phnom Penh, we‟ll buy some walkie talkies. We'll use the radios to bypass any problems from the stream of phone calls coming in due to the hoax ads. NOVEMBER 29, 2009 SMS text message from Seth Meixner, Phnom Penh Post re: the first hoax classified that had been placed “I‟m chking w/ the ad people tomorrow” NOVEMBER 30, 2009 SMS from Seth Meixner, Phnom Penh Post: “I‟ve chked about the ad and was told it was removed.” Back in Phnom Penh, and too busy making final preparations for the festival to inquire further into what had been going on at or the Post. We've go all our permissions now from the Kampot authorities...all the running around has finally paid off:

CamboFest 2009 has complete permission from the Kampot authorities We acquire a set of walkie-talkies as the best workaround in order to circumvent the hoax ads. DECEMBER 1, 2009

Despite earlier outreach to the Post's Stephane Davos regarding the first hoax classified that appeared in their classified section, a new, second hoax ad headed “CamboFest cancelled” appears. This ad is more problematic than the first ad for the 'phantom' Honda Dream, for obvious reasons. It‟s hard to argue that the appearance of this ad in “Cambodia‟s newspaper of Record” can be beneficial, even if its negative impacts are debatable. Even though the ad is placed in the events classified section, a significant number readers in Phnom Penh (as I‟d find out later) take it to be the truth, or are at least confused by its appearance. Fortunately, a large audience demographic in Kampot, Kep, and the South Coast doesn‟t read the Post. They are travelers and tourists, generally not following the daily news in Cambodia, and are also fundamentally not involved in any of the rivalries or hostilities that may be found in the expat community in Cambodia. The hoax ads are both written by, and presumably placed by, a long-term foreigner (expat), definitely not a native Cambodian. I wondered which was more disturbing: that someone had actually found personal value in devoting the time and effort to write and place the ads in the first place; or that the ads had made it through the Post‟s editorial gauntlet, assuming that such a gauntlet existed. While there is the argument that a newspaper can‟t be expected to effectively vet or screen every single classified ad, we weren‟t talking about an innocuous typographical error in this instance - i.e., an 8 gig iPod that should have been listed as a 16Gig iPod. The ad is referring to Cambodia‟s only (at the time, at least) functioning international movie festival, already in its 3rd year. As of December 1st, 2009, there were at least ten newspapers in Cambodia, and many more magazines - but only one international film festival. Sure, we‟re underfunded and grass-roots (and still not able to actually afford a red carpet so far) but we‟re well known domestically and internationally, and have hosted the work of over two hundred filmmakers. And now we're striving to undertake a historical and symbolic event in Cambodian cinema by reviving the defunct Kampot cinema house, the „Royal‟, even if we sustain a financial loss (which is likely). I wondered if the Post or the hoaxster(s) were aware of the impact the ad may have on the livelihoods of our Cambodian colleagues who were helping to produce the festival…I thought back again to all the recent press about the state of the cinema industry in Cambodia, with many foreigners and journalists bemoaning its decline, and yearning for its return.

Yet, here were foreigners – living in Cambodia, as guests of the Cambodian government – making concerted attempts to thwart one of the few valid efforts to bring a viable motion picture industry back to Cambodia. All the rhetoric had gone out the window... Would the Post have permitted the printing of a hoax classified ad announcing the „cancellation‟ of the local, French-run PhotoPhnomPenhfestival – an event which had already cited by some to be “clashing” with CamboFest? Anyway, I heard about the fake ad from a colleague. I contacted the Post‟s editor, Seth Meixner to see what was up with this new, second hoax ad to be printed in just a few days. Seth said they‟d make a correction. I assumed, as per normal journalistic standards and all reasonable expectation that the correction would be made the next day. I contacted the public affairs officer at the US Embassy, the embassy being one of several supporters of CamboFest 2009 (as well as the 2008 edition) and mentioned the situation to him. He agreed the ad should be corrected as soon as possible, and said he'd also talk to Seth in person later that day. While I wasn‟t thrilled with the ad being placed in the first place, I was satisfied in knowing that adequate damage control would occur as a result of a quick correction. I'd considered actually buying a small ad in the Post to make the correction myself (since a pro-bono ad wasn't forthcoming, which would have been appreciated). But our budget was already strained...we still had to pay for rooms in Kampot for all the visiting filmmakers, for example. I decided to rely on the Post making a prompt correction*, and went back to focusing on the task at hand: the development of the movie industry in Cambodia, via CamboFest edition 3.0. (*As we'd find out later...this didn't quite happen as planned) We‟d continue plowing ahead, despite the interference from these foreigners who – like malicious elves - were busy at work to try to thwart the event.

CamboFest staff after the second hoax ad appears in the Post; the situation calls for robust countermeasures.

Dianne Janes Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 4:36 PM To: Reply | Reply to all | Forward | Print | Delete | Show original Hi Jason, I saw the ad in today's Post - is it true Cambofest is cancelled? What happened? Dianne Janes Film Writer Phnom Penh Post J Rosette Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 8:30 PM Reply-To: To: Dianne Janes Reply | Reply to all | Forward | Print | Delete | Show original

Hmm...heard about this bad prank. Dianne, do you really think that, after working on this fest for three seasons, and prepping a long time for this event, that we'd announce its cancellation in a free ad in the Post? Why not actually investigate what's really going on behind the scenes here, in terms of Cambodia's transition to a normal media environment - with eventual real movie theaters, etc - given that resistances* like these are flying around in an attempt to discredit or diminish Cambodia's only currently functioning movie festival? Could be a great investigative report - if you're willing to take that on! Have addressed this via various channels, no worries, CFEST still on (of course)! G'luck, Jason [* by 'resistances', I'm referring to the concept of resistances in the media environment, an idea proposed by Arvind Singhal and Everett Rogers in their groundbreaking work, "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment-Education", cited in my report for RUPP ] It is generally agreed around Phnom Penh that the Phnom Penh Post tends to cover the more sensational stories happening in Cambodia, while its competitor, the Cambodia Daily tends to be more tempered in this approach. It‟s interesting that the Post hasn‟t explored one of the more sensational culture/art stories to happen all year: the attempted sabotage of Cambodia‟s only film festival at the hands of malicious foreigners with their own newspaper being used as a tool in those efforts. Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 8:50 PM To: Reply | Reply to all | Forward | Print | Delete | Show original It sounds more like a petty personal vendetta than a resistance movement. Best of luck with the festival, I'm glad to hear it's still on. Cheers Di But then, at the same time, the Camerado (producer of CamboFest) user account was blocked at the unaffiliated Expat Advisory Service, a local website where event announcements and other forum discussions can be made. We'd made announcements regarding CamboFest and other activities already on the EAS website many times; and while it wasn't the only forum-based website of its kind in Cambodia, it was a handy resource.

Expat Advisory Services Bookmark and Share The username camerado has not been activated or is blocked.
I send an email to the proprietor, Anthony Galloway – but receive no response. It‟s a notable item, since the EAS is a moderated system, and we could only be blocked if the site was hacked or if someone on the inside shut us out.

Strange, because I never had any bone to pick with the owner of the site. I'd backed him up during the challenges launching and running his weekly magazine, The Advisor, and defended the guy and his efforts when the rumor-mill in Phnom Penh started churning, after he decided to shutter it. Anyway, two strong local web resources remain friendly for CamboFest's continued promotion within Cambodia: the Khmer 440 website and theCambodia Parents Group at Yahoo - arguably occupying opposite ends of the Cambodian "wholesomeness" spectrum, yet united at least by their noninterference with CamboFest.

DECEMBER 2, 2009 It‟s the day before the launch of CamboFest 2009, and we're finally on our way to Kampot. Suong Sambath is at the wheel, while I ride shotgun. CamboFest staffers Mr. Tol and Narith Hoo are as excited as I am to be finally heading down for our 3rd annual festival. We've got all our gear: the generator, equipment, custom-made screen and frame (specially designed to fit the 'Royal'), large venue projector on loan courtesy of the US Embassy, expendables…bags of clothes, various AV and electrical gear...even a visiting filmmaker. We‟re on our way at last, despite all the challenges in getting this far: from the open call for film submissions over a year ago, to the hunt for the Sangkat offices in the ricefields of Kampot…from the fortuitous discovery of the „Royal‟, to the selection of the final program from the mad heap of movie submissions…from the notification of participating filmmakers, to the preparation of programs. So I‟m telling our filmmaker about the strange goings-on surrounding this year‟s CamboFest: I can tell he finds most of it hard to believe. We‟re just outside Takeo when I get a call from Christi Hang, a culture/arts reporter at the Cambodia Daily. “Hi is this CamboFest?” “Yea, hi” “This is Christi Hang from the Cambodia Daily, I‟m just calling to see why CamboFest was cancelled this year” “Huh?” 'We received your email announcing the cancellation of the festival" I‟d only just been telling our visiting filmmaker about all the weird interference that‟d been going on with the festival this time round – so I kind of smiled and winked at him before telling Christi: “Uh, it‟s not cancelled. That‟s probably another prank, we‟ve been getting quite a few of them. We‟re actually heading down to Kampot right now. I've got a filmmaker in the van. Would you like to talk to him?” “Sure”. I handed over the phone. He spoke with Christi for a while. Of course she soon realized that the “press release” had indeed been another hoax. I asked Christi to forward me a copy of the email when she had a chance. She said she would (and she did).

Hoax email sent to the Cambodia Daily and others; examination of the email headers later reveals the email has 'laundered' through the IP address of an anonymizer - but server logs and other data later pinpoints the source nonetheless...

I thanked Christi for the diligent followup, which prevented this instance of misinformation from being publicly printed - and we continued on our way to Kampot, to the historic CamboFest 2009 Edition at the 'Royal'. From: Microsoft Customer Support To: The CamboFest Team Subject: RE: XXX1119185448ID Part(s): Download All Attachments (in .zip file) Headers: Show All Headers Alternative parts for this section: unnamed [text/html] 8.53 KB Thank you for patiently waiting for our response. This is Dvenz and I am a Subject Matter Expert from Windows Live Hotmail Customer Support. Your message was escalated to me and I would like to assist you with your report on the account...

According to Microsoft, a pair of IT colleagues, and the technical data in the email headers on the message...the 'Secret Phisher' has made one critical mistake! (See the upcoming Part 2 of the 'CamboFest Story' for the identity of 'The Secret Phisher' revealed)

Despite the local corruption, the lack of funding, the lack of cinema infrastructure in Cambodia, the absence of a cinema culture and trained staff (all this because of utter annihilation of the industry during the Khmer Rouge era)… …despite an overall lack of coverage of Cambodia‟s only international film festival (as of the time of this writing) in the local press…despite the hoax classifieds printed in the Phnom Penh Post and the annoying phone calls coming from fake ad listings on…despite the snooping in the art scene and the “clashing of dates” with the other event taking place far away in Phnom Penh… ...and of course, despite the persistent, maligned interference from maligned, foreigner nonCambodians:

CamboFest 2009 kicks off as planned!

CamboFest staff celebrate a successful launch of the 2009 edition, despite all the challenges “Loak” cinema, the proprietor of the „Royal‟ is happy to see us – it‟s as if he‟s the gatekeeper to the promised land…we made it through the Scylla and Charybdis of bent foreign intervention, into the land of Raw Cambodian cinema power. As soon as we hit Kampot-dirt, we commence a vigorous, grass-roots, local outreach in Kampot and Kep to scoop in the traveler/tourist demographic which had likely not been impacted by the hoax ad in the Post. We rent a local moto, and Narith Hoo attaches our mega-loudpeaker to it. We fill Narith‟s basket with flyers to hand out , and off he goes, smile beaming on his face, megaphone beckoning to all the prime cinema-goers in Kampot town and srok srei alike: “CamboFest movie festival today at Royal Cinema‟: Eggman -style (in English and Khmer).

CamboFest staffer Narith Hoo, and his magnificent grassroots festival promotion machine

Fueled on fried noodles and coconuts (as we all are) Narith refreshes his basket with flyers and posters on a continuous basis…all day long, postering and flyering, Kampot and Kep, handing out flyers to travelers, guests, Cambodians in the rice fields. He passes his flyers to the movie fans who are already filtering towards the South coast and the magic-magnet of the „Royal‟ cinema. “Loak” cinema - the owner of the 'Royal' - is happy, beaming. Days later, after the festival wraps, and stunned by its exstacy and hardship, we are all sitting at Kampot‟s “Year 2000” restaurant with Da Boyz – all Cambodian, his friends in the army and government and police. He‟s proudly regaling them with tales of his rejuvenated cinema house. His pal with the long fingernail on his pinky finger concurs, nodding sweetly, before paying for all our drinks and heading off in his LEXUS. Cutting back to the actual CamboFest event: now that the generator is chugging, and the brilliant beam of Uncle Sam‟s projector is tossing photons against the furthest wall, and the „Royal‟ itself is groaning awake from its years-long slumber, our staffer Narith‟s eager, boyish expression belies no knowledge of the recent rash of interference propagated by foreign guests in his Kingdom. Narith knows nothing yet of the persons who have labored to thwart his movie event, his CamboFest, Cambodia‟s only functioning international movie festival* (*at the time, at least). Narith just continues to patiently tend to the generator, to ride his moto-loudspeaker without being hassled by the Man, to hand out invitations to the guests: to play his part in conjuring cinema back to Cambodia. In between raw cloves of garlic (for health and power, of course), and plenty of smokes, I engage in constant blogging with my puny netbook, undertaking web outreach with one hand,and text messaging festival updates with the other.

Using the latest technology to bypass problems with this year's print media coverage

It‟s true that the hoax classified printed in the Phnom Penh Post may have impacted attendance, the question is: how much? While many local expats in Phnom Penh were confused about the status of the festival, travelers and tourists, especially those outside of the expat enclave of Phnom Penh, touring through Kep and Kampot are showing up in increasing numbers. A convoy of Tuk Tuks arrive in front of the „Royal‟. I almost forgot they were coming - it‟s the group of university students who‟ve come out all the way to Kampot from Ho Chi MInh City.

[See the students' blog here] They all look clean, neat, fabulous, squeaky…the young women are well-styled and gorgeous. They all have large new cameras around their necks; they chatter excitedly and snap pictures of the „Royal‟s old façade, before heading inside to catch the next movie session. Meanwhile, the gear is working remarkably well. The custom screen we built for the „Royal‟ is perfect, nearly seamless despite its three-panel construction. The 7000+ lumens projector – a business-like,

dense, 25kg square of media-machine on loan from the US Embassy, unfurls it beam across the old Cambodian cinema house. The alchemic rectangle shimmers brightly despite ambient midday light which streams in through the „Royal‟s broken roof...

[See pix, videos and more at the dedicated CamboFest 2009 Blog] The „Royal‟: who sat here and watched back in 1966, before the region fell into the crucible of War? I have no time to think it: I‟m Kurz‟s boiler-keeper, tending only to the ship with no time to greet them (til later, at least, til now) CamboFest staff are still using radios to communicate, but by now the hoax ads, announcing the Phantom items for sale, are tapering away now that the show has begun. DECEMBER 6, 2009 Seth Meixner, editor of the Post, confirms by SMS message that a correction of the 2nd hoax ad, „Cambofest cancelled‟, was indeed printed - but little did we know then that the correction was actually placed on thelast day of the festival! (besides not being in the spirit of a true, immediate correction, in violation of the Cambodian press law too...) On our side, we all assume that the correction had been placed the next day…we‟re all too busy wrapping Day 3 to think about it much more. DECEMBER 6, 2009, Cont. CamboFest 2009 wraps – after the final show and the Cooling of the Great Bulb, we all head to Kampot's “Bushmeat Restaurant” (unnamed Cambodian grilled beef joint). I insist that Narith Hoo CamboFest staffer, motodop, colleague and friend of mine, who speaks no English, yet understands everything when I speak my mixed Khmer – must come to the bushmeat restaurant to be regaled as a hero. He is the nuts and bolts of the festival, the gristle, the marrow, the real „srok srei‟ Cambodian. We eat and drink and smoke: filmmaker James Speck is there, various travelers, Chuunly Puy (winner of the 2007 CamboFest Golden Buffalo) „Simongoloid‟ Toffanello (Phnom Penh photographer)…and the exhausted, but flushed, CamboFest staff. I‟m tired, zonked. I can only think of watching Mega Fish on NatGeo back at the Little Garden guesthouse, and falling into the arms of Sleep (Brother of Death...) DECEMBER 7, 2009 Originally planned as our awards day, but we don‟t have enough time to tabulate the audience choice ballots. We‟re all toasted from the effort of producing the event. Instead, we go to Kep and wallow in the sea at Crown o‟clock and enjoy a seafood lunch - we head back to Phnom Penh in the mid afternoon. I can see, along the sunset roads of Kampon Trach, the vast fold of fields and accompanying, unknown mounds of the Cambodian countryside. Mr. Sambath is stoic at his wheel, while Mr. Tol shares some kind of Japanese peanut snack with us all. And Narith, skinny and tough as a bamboo stalk, ever smiling, smiles as placidly as Lord Buddha himself: I know that every kid who glides by on his bicycle is riding with us. DECEMBER 8, 2009 – After a day off to sleep after wrapping this year's CamboFest, I need to shift gears immediately to write the final draft of my Masters report for Royal University of Phnom Penh, an effort that had actually been ongoing throughout the production of CamboFest itself with whatever scraps of time I could find between managing the event.

I'm curious to look into all the intrigue and interference that happened at this year's CamboFest, to find out more about who was behind it all. But I won't have time until after I deliver the report on January 1st...

End of the 'CamboFest Story' (Part 1)
Hello Cambofest, Congrats on the success of this years edition (I made the Massacrator movie). As bad as they were, it seems to me that hoaxes and interferences might be the best things to happen to you; it makes for an interesting follow up and great drama. A small Asian festival that succeeds is ok, but a small Asian festival that succeeds despite conspiracies is memorable. You'll likely get some more press with that one item! Regards and keep up the good work, Pierre Ayotte Director, Massacrator

The CamboFest Story (Part 2) Includes:
The 'Investigation' * Hand-to-Hand Battle with Movie Pirates in the Streets of Phnom Penh * Confronting 'The Wizard'

The 'Secret Phisher' Revealed

THE CAMBOFEST STORY (Part 2 and beyond)

A local Kampot youth group, YAHRD, is trained to run the show for the 4th edition of CamboFest taking place March 2011 Flaherty's classic arctic doc, 'Nanook of the North' enjoys its official Cambodian premiere (with the permission of IFS and the Flaherty estate) at long last - 88 years after its release

July 2011 (by CamboFest founder and co-organizer, Jason Rosette)

For a variety of reasons, I've waited until now to make any further comments regarding the incidents that had taken place earlier (above), known generally as 'The CamboFest Story (Part 1)' and to carry on with any further notes pending the successful completion of the 4th edition of CamboFest, March 19*, 2011. (*Dates actually ran March 1-5, 2011; the extra days were added to dissuade and render more difficult any potential disruptions of the 4th edition by stretching the run of the festival.)

Since the conclusion of the 3rd 2009 edition of the festival, it has come to my attention that some rumors have circulated in Phnom Penh regarding the 2009 Cambofest incidents detailed above (in Part 1), which make CamboFest principals appear to be, ironically, culpable parties or 'the bad guys'. Following the conclusion of the 3rd edition, I was physically provoked into a melee by some of the perpetrators of the malicious hoaxes detailed above, at a local pub in Phnom Penh, the Zeppelin Cafe. The confrontation was started by former proprietors of the unlicensed (aka 'pirate') Phnom Penh movie house mentioned earlier; as mentioned these former owners were verifiably involved in interference documented above in Part 1. During the incident at Zeppelin Cafe, four provocateurs (the couple who owned the movie house and two others I'd never met at all) confronted me without any reason or antogonism on my part something which can be verified by the proprietor of the Zeppelin cafe, the staff working a few feet away from me where I sat at the time, and two tourists from New Zealand who I was talking to. This incident was furthermore spun later by some parties to make me appear culpable and antagonistic, despite available corroborating testimony from the establishment's owner and staff, and two visiting tourists at the cafe who were objective observers in any case.

I refrained from posting any further accounts to date:

1) in order to diminish possibilities of repeated interference with the successful transition of the CamboFest effort to a local participation approach (as per the involvement of a local Cambodian youth group at the 4th edition)


2) because I thought (to the detriment of myself and CamboFest, it turns out) by not addressing the incidents any further, they would be allowed to settle into the past. Instead, these incidents were exploited by some competing local practitioners to create obstacles for us in the local environment in the intervening period between the 3rd and 4th editions of CamboFest.

By not addressing the Zeppelin Cafe incident immediately, rumors were allowed to propagate which bore little semblance to the actual events, while at times negatively influencing CamboFest's reputation in the local Cambodia/Phnom Penh community (I will note, however, that internationally the incidents added value to the CamboFest profile by enabling the event to stand out from the myriad of small regional film festival efforts, which in turn attracted further filmmaker attention regionally and abroad) This factor was at times actively exploited. For example, the (foreign) proprietor of one notable art and media center in Phnom Penh which had been seeking funding from the same source as CamboFest following the conclusion of the festival's troubled 3rd edition - intentionally reframed the incident at Zeppelin Cafe * to make it appear that I was culpable and at fault.

(*an archive of these emails are available after the funder cc'd all parties during our mutual discussions). In that particular instance, the competing practitioner's tactic backfired, to the rue of Cambodia itself: the funder supported neither CamboFest nor the unaffiliated art and media center and withdrew its consideration from the Cambodian territory altogether (*for that funding cycle at least...) inclination is now to address these incidents on a point by point basis to defend and vindicate CamboFest and myself as reasonably and rightfully as possible.

However: I understand that detailing these incidents any further in a publicly available forum might negatively color the Cambodia's reputation in the int'l media trade (despite factual truth) I've therefore prepared a statement, available upon request, which explains from our point of view (with available documentation) what happened during that period, and shortly after the conclusion of the 3rd edition of CamboFest including the incident at the Zeppellin Cafe. This statement is available upon request by I would therefore hope that interested parties, including potential funders, supporters, filmmakers, and arts organizations, might in the future request and consider these available facts, instead of local hearsay, when determining worthiness and viability of the CamboFest festival platform (or any other legitimate cultural enterprise) as a participant in the Cambodian and Southeast Asian media ecosystem.

Thanks for your kind attention, I'll now proceed to any further post-festival statements and updates of a more 'appealing' nature ;)

Jason Rosette Founder & Co-organizer CAMBOFEST, Cambodia