1. Why Kampot? It seems to be a little on the remote side, so what is the inspiration behind this event and the location?
Kampot is South-East Asia’s worst-kept secret. It is a town nestled between the mountains and the sea with a wonderful river—the Praek Teuk Chhu—snaking its way down from the Elephant Mountains through the charmingly rustic town and spilling out into the Gulf of Thailand. When I first came here almost 9 years ago, there was hardly a soul around and the only foreign-run late-night bar in town was a place called Red, distinguished by its single red-coloured light bulb illuminating its dingy doorway. However, Kampot is now attracting expats and visitors from every corner of the planet. There is something about the township and the province’s sleepy coastal feel, far away from the chaos of Phnom Penh. The Kampot Readers and Writers Festival (KRWF) takes place in and around Kampot’s so-called French Quarter for its wonderfully dilapidated French colonial–style buildings. It is perhaps these ingredients that make Kampot town conducive for eliciting artistic responses and, indeed, appealing as a writer’s retreat—there’s even a Kipling Street! Our 5-day carnival of words, art and song brings together diverse punters of all backgrounds within the setting of a tight-knit community that has a strong sense of kinship. The festival might not have been possible, or as effective, in a bigger and more impersonal city such as Phnom Penh. Only recently, Iggy Pop wrote to us to follow up on the idea of a visit to Cambodia. He asked, ‘What’s Kampot like?’ I replied and described the place as the ‘Havana of Cambodia’ to which Iggy responded, ‘Havana of Cambodia…you should write a song with that…pretty catchy’. And so you have it! Kampot is an inspirational place and a great setting for a festival here in Cambodia, based around writers, singers, artists and storytellers.
2. Background on ‘festival founder’ Julien, how did it come about? And KAMA – who set it up and how does it operate?
I conceived and set up both the festival and KAMA (Kampot Arts and Music Association), as a way to not only expand my personal community arts projects but also to introduce others to a place that is fast becoming an ‘arts enclave’. I am best known for my work as the founder and producer of ‘The Cambodian Space Project’—Cambodia’s most renowned international music export—and with the CSP touring much of the world, I’ve been astonished by the support that our psychedelic rock’n’roll band has received and also by the incredible Cambodian arts revival that the band has been a large part of making happen. Cambodia has been a generous and enriching place for me, and I believe in sharing this experience by staying and working here to give back. The best way I can do this is by putting my professional experience and networks into action to develop and grow the creative arts community—and all the opportunities that a vibrant and healthy arts ecosystem can bring—here in Cambodia.
3. Who will this event appeal to (audience-wise)
At KRWF, we strive to create an appealing international program, while also producing events and indeed an entire festival that is free and accessible to our local community. A huge challenge that we face is finding a programming balance that is unique to our community and environment. Cambodia still lags behind on a global level and has the lowest literacy levels in the South-East Asian region, while the culture of reading for knowledge and, indeed, pleasure, is something that is still developing. These challenges make the KRWF program unique and sets our festival apart from similar writers festivals that have mushroomed around the world. KRWF provides a window to the world for our local audience and a special view into Cambodia’s vibrant emerging arts scene for our international guests.
4. Who is already signed up to feature on the program?
Our 2017 program is gearing up to be an exciting one! We are thrilled to confirm authors such as Madeleine Thien and bestselling author Jung Chang (Chang’s Wild Swans has sold over 12 million copies), as well as a delegation led by the Ottawa International Writers Festival that includes some of Canada’s best authors, such as Esi Edugyan, Rawi Hage and David O’Meara. Our program includes a diverse and eclectic line-up of writers, artists and performers that hail from South-East Asia and Cambodian diaspora communities in Australia, Europe and USA—and of course across Cambodia, including minority and indigenous communities. We also have some fantastic visual artists and musicians working with us as ‘artists in residence’ plus an amazing program of film but the official program’s not yet released so I do want to keep some things secret. Opening party in Phnom Penh is shaping up to be a truly unforgettable night and this will be held at Chinese House on Nov 1.
5. Does this event receive government support?
We don’t receive government financial support here in Cambodia, as it’s simply not available yet. However, Cambodia is developing rapidly and we have had great support from Cambodian officials, ministries, dignitaries, private individuals and the business community, from securing direct sponsorship to ‘in-kind’ support— which is invaluable and essential to the staging of KRWF. Some of our expenses have previously been supported by the diplomatic community in Cambodia with project funding from the embassies of USA, Sweden, Canada and others. This year sponsors such at the USA Embassy and Raffles have pulled-out, US Embassy is having a ‘strategic change of direction’ but this has left us without major sponsors and considering cancelling but we have a festival themed on ‘courage’ and will overcome financial hurdles by sheer weight of the talent that will convene in a fantastic way at what will no doubt be a great celebration of cultural diversity, bold ideas, conversation and However, most of our budget is made up of the incredibly generous support of individuals who believe in what we’re doing and donate time, raise funds and contribute energy, ideas and goodwill to making KRWF an exceptional community event!