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Celebrating 30 Years of French and Khmer Culture

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The French Institute of Cambodia will celebrate its 30th anniversary this March. The institute has had a successful start to the year with functions like cinema screenings, kid’s activities, the European Film Festival, and a short exhibition on fashion with Colorblind, but they have even bigger plans for March.

Rodriguez Valentin, the Deputy Director and Cultural Attaché at Institut français du Cambodge (IFC) since August 2020, is excited for the Anniversary weekend. There will be dance performances by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, the New Cambodian Artists,and by the students of the Princess Bopha Devi Dance. Including musical concerts by KlapYaHands, Chapei legend Kong Nai, and special performances of shadow theater with the Kok Thlok association and Phare Ponleu Selpak, to name a few.

“March will be the inauguration of a cultural season around books and graphic novels, as well as the anniversary weekend of the French Institute on March 18-20,” Valentin stated. Adding that ‘Cases départ’, an exhibition dedicated to books and graphic novels by Akira Fukaya, Tian, Philippe Dupuy, Loo Hui Phang, Patrick Samnang Mey, Michael Sterckeman, Séra, Uth Roeun, Fabrice Beau, Denis Do, Marguerite Duras, Rithy Panh, Agathe Pitié, Pénélope Bagieu, and more.

There will be a story competition aimed at participants ages 11 to 18. Contestants who wish to enter their stories must do so in French or Khmer individually or with a group, by March 14.

Advocating for Film and Books

The French Institute works with rising and established film directors from Cambodia. Films by filmmakers like Davy Chou and oscar-nominated Rithy Panh have been shown at the institute. They are also working closely with Anti-Archive members, such as Kavich Neang, whose newly released fiction White Building will be shown in March in their in-house cinema.

Working with organizations like the Bophana Center, the Cambodia International Film Festival, and distribution companies in Cambodia, such as Westec and Cineplex, also allows the institute to bring French cinema to a Khmer audience. Valentin adds that French director, Fabrice Beau’s new movie, The Khmer Smile, will premiere at IFC in March on the anniversary weekend.

Adapting to Hard Times

Although many institutions in the cultural field have struggled during the pandemic, the French Insitute has managed to stay relevant in the local community by providing access online to conferences or book and movie recommendations, as well as teasers for exhibitions.

Even with programs offering access to movies, exhibitions, free outdoor screenings, conferences, art performances, concerts, French classes (online and on-site), guided tours for exhibitions and the media library, dance activities, video games, board games, Valentin and his associate, Borin Kor, still plan a detailed cultural program of exhibitions and events. Any artists interested in showcasing their work, are encouraged to contact them.

The Hidden Gem

The Media library of the French Institute is the biggest French library in all of South East Asia, with a collection of books and documents including French novels, international newspapers, children’s books, and resources for French learners.

Cambodians can become registered members of the media library for a minimum of $10 a year. The subscription will allow access to books and resources that can be borrowed and taken home and automatic membership to Culturethèque, the Institute’s online library.

“Books are a major part of the French cultural outreach”, Valentin stated. In collaboration with the NGO, SIPAR, they work to develop reading and fight against illiteracy. Their efforts have yielded 21 books and graphic novels which have been translated from French to Khmer. They also plan to initiate a residence program for Cambodian and French writers by the end of the year. The program, called the ‘Marguerite Duras Residence’ will focus on writers in children’s literature.

Written by Sotheavy Nou

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