In a recent interview, Andreas Zurbrugg, Deputy Ambassador at the Australian Embassy in Cambodia talked about the Cambodia International Film Festival, Australia-Cambodia relations, and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Why is the Australian Embassy supporting the Cambodia International Film Festival this year?
Zurbrugg: I’m very pleased that the Cambodia International Film Festival is back this year for its 11th edition after a two-year break. The Cambodian Government’s successful vaccine roll out needs to be credited for this, and Australia is proud to have supported that achievement with our Pfizer vaccine donations and end-to-end assistance with vaccine distribution and delivery. It’s exciting that after these efforts and the commendable vaccine uptake that we can now go to the movies!
The Australian Embassy is a major partner of the Cambodian International Film Festival (CIFF) this year. 2022 is an important year for us as we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Australia. Hence, we want to build on this festival to connect our cultures, find common ground and a shared sense of community. The films will reflect a contemporary Australia – our diversity, creativity, and complexity. Our support for this year’s film festival is a chance for all Australians and Cambodians to reflect on our countries’ journeys over the last 70 years, and what we can do in the next 70 and beyond.
The festival traditionally has been very popular. While our support aims to help celebrate our 70th anniversary, it will also help it summarize as a platform for filmmakers and audiences to engage with each other, and create dialogue between all people. It will support creative solutions and collaboration between people and institutions with similar values and interests.
Can you describe some Australian specific events being organized as part of the festival?
Zurbrugg: The CIFF website www.cambodiaiff. com has the full program for the festival from June 28 to July 3. To celebrate our 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between Cambodia and Australia, we will screen about 20 Australian films produced during this period, 1952-2022. The films include community and educational films highlighting issues on Mekong environmental and water management, agriculture, indigenous groups and gender equality
In addition, some prominent Australian film personalities are visiting Cambodia to participate in this year’s festival. These filmmakers and artists preserve and share Australia’s vibrant and diverse audio-visual culture – reflecting who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.
You mentioned some Australian film personalities are coming. Who are they and what are they going to do in the festival?
Zurbrugg: We have three Australian film personalities coming to participate in this year CIFF. They are Richard Kuipers, Allison Chhorn and James Gerrand.
Richard Kuipers is an Australian variety film critic and festivals curator based in Sydney. He has helped curate and will introduce the ‘Panorama of Australian Cinema’. The Panorama includes 17 films from across the 70 years of the Australian-Cambodian relationship, 1952-2022. Screenings and events will be in different cinemas, so check the program for details. Richard will also provide a masterclass on the history of Australian cinema to Cambodian film enthusiasts and filmmakers, highlighting the early beginning and recent achievements of Australian cinema.
I am also excited that Australian-Cambodian artist and filmmaker Allison Chhorn is coming. Allison was born in Australia from Cambodian parents who fled the Khmer Rouge regime. She first traveled to Cambodia with her family to visit relatives and re-connect with the country 10 years ago.
Allison’s work has been presented in prestigious film festivals around the world, and she’s a fine example of the contribution that Australians of Cambodian heritage make to modern Australia. Her most recent film ‘The Plastic House’ has received a lot of international attention and will be presented at Java Creative Cafe Tuol Tom Puong on Saturday, July 2 at 4pm. Allison will also take part in a panel discussion on women in cinema, gathering other Southeast Asian female filmmakers during the festival as well.
We also have James Gerrand, an Australian veteran filmmaker, joining us this year. James has produced over ten films in Cambodia and we ca n’t wait to see his two famous films in a segment on the Mekong River. These are ‘Mekong Downstream’, and ‘Khmer! Khmer! Cambodia in Conflict’. James will also provide an open class on documentary filmmaking to young Cambodian filmmakers and film students during his visit to him.
Could you tell us more about the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between Cambodia and Australia?
Zurbrugg: Australia and Cambodia established diplomatic relations back in 1952, which is about a year before Cambodia gained formal independence. Our relationship is based on fundamental people-to-people links, and those people-to-people links are at the real foundation of a country-to-country relationship. There’re about 66,000 Australians who have a Cambodian background, and they make a vibrant contribution to Australia’s multicultural community.
Over the 70 years, we’ve been a strong partner for Cambodia in health, agriculture, education and infrastructure, and we want to celebrate that while reflecting on how we can deepen this type of cooperation going forward. Our relationship with Cambodia enables us to engage on issues of bilateral, regional and strategic importance, and support improvements that benefit both Australian and Cambodian people. Since 1997, Australia has provided AUD1.3 billion in official development assistance to Cambodia. Our support cuts across a wide range of areas including indigenous issues, women empowerment, and Mekong environmental and water management – these will all be featured among the mentioned 20 Australian films.
Our assistance will continue into the future. Our immediate concern is to help Cambodia recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic and progress beyond Least Developed Country status. We will soon be launching a new $87 million investment to support that initiative.
What’s your favorite movie and why?
Zurbrugg: I have many favorite films, but out of the 20 films being screened at the CIFF, I am looking forward to watch ‘LION’. It’s a great story – based on a true one – about an Indian boy Saroo (Dev Patel) who gets lost from his family, is orphaned and is adopted by Australian parents (his adopted Mum is played by Nicole Kidman). Twenty years later he uses Google Earth to track down his village and returns to India to find his family. It’s a powerful movie about the complexity of dual national identity. I promise it’ll make you feel great and cry at the same time!
I love watching movies with my wife and kids. Movies are entertaining and allow us to learn about ourselves and the world – they shape the way we’re looking at the world. They give you the ability to hear a rich diversity of voices from the divided areas as well as whatever happens in the farthest place of the world. I look forward to the festival and hope to see you at the movies.