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Camerado’s Observations on Pirate Movie Exhibition in Cambodia

Currently, foreign-run pirate movie venues in Cambodia are thriving now more than ever, and they continue to rip off filmmakers and studios while negatively impacting Cambodia’s reputation in the international media trade.

Just consider: when an international filmmaker discovers their film has been screened in Cambodia without their knowledge or permission – Cambodia suffers.  

It becomes ‘the Cambodians’ who ripped off the film…not the actual foreign venue owner who made the decision to screen the movie, sourced the bogus title, and makes a living off concession sales and admission fees, with nary a penny going to the producer of the film.

Over the past several years since the original writing of The CamboFest Story, pirate venue owners in Phnom Penh have become savvier, more clever.  


Now that the issues of public performance rights and copyright for films has been well-raised (through incidents like those seen in that strange but true tale) these venue owners now attempt to disguise their core pirate operations under the guise or of some kind of an ostensible community orientation or service. 

With astonishing gall, and total disrespect to the reputation of their host country, some of these proprietors actually make efforts to depict themselves as ‘crusaders against piracy’…while simultaneously loading the next illegally downloaded video file or DVD into their projectors.


They may even use the term ‘community center’ or ‘cultural center’ in their venue descriptions; the following phrase therefore comes to mind:

“the shadow is darkest under the lamp”


Another technique on skillful display by unscrupulous foreign cinema venue owners in Phnom Penh is to create a careful ‘blend’ of movie titles on their calendars, intermingling some legitimate titles (those with permissions) alongside films that are outright ripped off – without even the courtesy of a single email to the filmmaker to request permission, as expressed by the following international filmmaker who learned this the hard way about his film, ‘DOWNTOWN 81’:

Thank you so much
I could consider it but I need your help in finding the contact and name for that movie down the road as thats illigal . I am the producer and I can assure you that its a bootleg. We have 35 mm and dvd but I am a bit tired to waste my times chasing illigal viewing! Please go see the film and try to get me name and contact, I appreciate that you are going through regular channel!
When confronted by an upset filmmaker, the seemingly altruistic,  but ultimately disengenous explanation may be offered: the movies are intended to educate the Cambodian people after 30 years of hardship and civil war* – with the foreign pirate shamelessly exploiting the troubled legacy of the Cambodian people as a way to justify fattening themselves and filling their pockets.

For example: 2010 Cannes award winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul was disappointed to learn that his title, ‘UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES’ had been slated to screen in Phnom Penh at a popular foreign run cinema venue with a long history of non-diligence.

The filmmaker emailed the venue proprietor; the venue operator’s response was as follows:

“We are not charging entrance fees, as we believe that – in order to help to develop the young Cambodian film scene after 30 yrs of turmoil – it is important to screen arthouse films and documentaries especially from neighbouring countries. In the case of Thailand we also hope that it helps to improve understanding inbetween Cambodia and Thailand, given the recent (political) problems and the urgent need for reconciliation.”

This venue now charges a $2 ‘donation’ for film screenings, by the way. Notably absent in the non-diligent venue proprietor’s response is any mention of profits made from drink, concession, or restaurant sales, or the significant foreign – and affluent, by Cambodian standards –  demographic in attendance at such screenings.

Finally, it’s arguable if not likely that, contrary to the stated intention of venue owner, the illicit exploitation of another regional filmmaker’s work is more likely to aggravate, rather than enhance, any form of reconciliation between the two neighboring countries.

Mr. Weerasethakul commented on this particular Phnom Penh venue in this email to his distributor, which was also cc’d to the founder of the CamboFest film festival:

“On many occasions, it has screened the films without directors’ knowledge and consent. Even though it is a free screening, it allows the venue to advertise itself, to seek funds, and to facilitate the notion that copyright is a non-issue in the region. I found a rationalization that UNCLE BOOMEE is available on a pirate DVD for 2 USD — sad. It doesn’t justify another abuse of the film. 

Warmest Regards,

Apichatpong Weerasethakul”
It’s hoped that the filmmaker’s perspective should in any case take precedence over any claim (or excuse) of venue owner: the filmmaker and their distribution partners have a RIGHT to determine the use of their work.

Unscrupulous venue owners may attempt to deflect any questions about accepting hard cash in exchange for exhibiting their pirated titles to the public; terms like ‘donation’ are used instead of “admission fee” or “ticket”. Or the following explanation is offered: all revenue “goes towards projection costs”, or “air conditioning”, or some other seemingly innocent expense – as if allocating the money towards this area of an illicit enterprise is acceptable, versus another.

Another interesting trait of these venue owners can be observed, particularly when they are questioned or approached by anyone who shares a pro-filmmaker point of view: the unscrupulous pirate venue owners are suddenly the ‘victims’ – not the filmmakers whose titles are being ripped off.

“Oh it’s so hard out here, there aren’t any real cinemas”
“Hmmm. Is anyone forcing you to live in Cambodia?”
“No.”
“So it’s your choice?”
“But we can’t afford to license the movies”
“Well, did you even ask – maybe the filmmakers would cut you a deal?”
“Well, no – but we don’t have the time to deal with them all!”
“Then maybe your current business model isn’t viable, or you have to adjust it, if the only way you can function is to steal from filmmakers to make it happen”

…etc.

All at the expense of Cambodia’s reputation in the regional and international media trade…

But what do these foreigners care?  It’s just Cambodia. Use the country to rip people off, til you can’t any more. Who cares about the impact on the local movie industry or the country’s reputation internationally? 

Ultimately, it’s the next generation of Cambodians, particularly the film and media makers, who need to step up to the plate to educate these foreigner pirate venue owners who are utilizing lax governance in their country to abuse copyright, rip off filmmakers, and foul Cambodia’s reputation in the international media trade.

Along these lines, Camerado applauds the efforts of emerging Cambodian filmmaker and youth groups like 4K, who launched the recent FilmCamp effort in Cambodia, or the YAHRD youth group who took part in the 4th edition of CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival (www.cambofest.com).


In light of the continuing unscrupulous behavior of some cinema venue owners in Cambodia, CamboFest therefore offers the following challenge to ALL cinema venue owners, foreigner or Khmer, with small or large enterprises, as a way of developing international standards in the movie industry in Cambodia:

The CAMBOFEST CHALLENGE



Since 2007, CamboFest has always publicly presented a list of distributor or filmmaker contacts as part of any program that was being screened.  Even with studio level titles, there has never been a single objection from the filmmaker or distributor to make these contacts publicly available.


We would typically hang them on a wall in a display area, poster style, for public review:

Page from movie guide of 2008 edition of CamboFest: includes filmmakers contacts which allow fans to ask questions about their movies, while simultaneously allowing confirmation of CamboFest’s right to screen



Organized* cinema venue owners in Cambodia who are interested in showing their support for the development of the film industry here should also make a list of authentic contacts for the filmmakers and distributors of the movies screening at their venue available for the public to see in a visible, accessible area of their establishment.

(*organized = publicly advertising specific film titles on specific dates in a coordinated way with the intention of drawing an audience to a venue, such as a listing on a calendar, flyer, newspaper, or website, with or without monetary cover charge or admission /  * not organized = movies being shown in some form, but no particular movie being advertised in a public way on a particular date to draw an audience…i.e., a pub announcing a ‘movie night’ with no specifically advertised list of titles, casual film groups, guesthouse screenings, etc.)



For example, for each day’s or week’s program, a list of authentic (not fake, generic, or otherwise bogus) email and /or phone contacts of the filmmaker or studio can be displayed in the lobby or foyer.


The extra effort, taking only a few minutes, greatly adds value to any legitimate venue operating in Cambodia’s piracy-challenged environment, by showing they are diligent about getting rights to screen films, which means they are working to enhance international standards in Cambodia. This also allows emerging local filmmakers to undertake a constructive dialogue with the filmmaker and rights holder, leading to their further education.


Potential moviegoers take note of any venue owner in Cambodia who resists this simple, free way of showing support for the developing Cambodian film industry.  Educate these proprietors by insisting that they present a list of their filmmaker and studio contacts for public review – an effective way to validate the legitimacy of any venue in the current Cambodian exhibition environment. 


Since 2007, out of 250 separate rights holders and filmmakers, CamboFest has never encountered a single instance where a rights holder or filmmaker refused to allow their contacts to be made available. (and they are usually thrilled to do so, understanding the need to support the development of the film industry in Cambodia)


Most film festivals around the world list their filmmaker, studio, and sales contacts, as well in a publicly available screening guide.

This simple, painless transparency mechanism – introduced to Cambodia and utilized by CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival (www.cambofest.com) since 2007 – takes very little extra effort by venue owners and should be welcomed by any movie venue proprietor who is authentically seeking to develop the Cambodian film industry and media sector:


CINEMA VENUE OWNERS & OPERATORS IN CAMBODIA: 
TAKE THE CAMBOFEST CHALLENGE! 


Do what CamboFest has always done as a way of strengthening international standards in the Cambodian movie industry: show off your venue’s support for the filmmakers and studios worldwide by making a list of rights-holder contacts for each movie available for public review!

A FEW REACTIONS OF FILMMAKERS WHO HAVE LEARNED THEIR MOVIE IS BEING SCREENED IN CAMBODIA WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION OR KNOWLEDGE


Re: Screening of UNCLE BOONMEE
2 messages
Apichatpong Weerasethakul 
Tue, Jun 7, 2011 at 11:11 AM
To: Thania Dimitrakopoulou
Cc: Kick the Machine Office
Dear Thania,

This is a problem with [foreign run VENUE in Cambodia]. On many occasions, it has screened the films without directors’ knowledge and consent. Even though it is a free screening, it allows the venue to advertise itself, to seek funds, and to facilitate the notion that copyright is a non-issue in the region. I found a rationalization that UNCLE BOOMEE is available on a pirate DVD for 2 USD — sad. It doesn’t justify another abuse of the film. 


Warmest Regards,


Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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Thank you so much for contacting us. Although it’s pretty exciting to hear we’re being shown in Cambodia, I’m afraid they’re doing it without our permission!

Judy Plapinger
Communications and Events Coordinator

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From: maripol [mailto:xx@maripol.com]
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2012 8:47 PM
To: CAMBOFEST, Cambodia Film Festival
Subject: Re: Hello NY Beat Films re: Downtown 81 in SE Asia

Thank you so much
I could consider it but I need your help in finding the contact and name for that movie down the road as thats illigal . I am the producer and I can assure you that its a bootleg. We have 35 mm and dvd but I am a bit tired to waste my times chasing illigal viewing! Please go see the film and try to get me name and contact, I appreciate that you are going through regular channel!

CAMERADO Movies and Media
http://www.camerado.com
5 years, 3 months ago Comments Off on Camerado’s Observations on Pirate Movie Exhibition in Cambodia