‘Love and Relationships’: Film festival in Cambodia addresses HIV prevention

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Feature story

‘Love and Relationships’: Film festival in Cambodia addresses HIV prevention

06 April 2009

A version of this story was first published on UNESCO.org

‘The cinema road’ crosses Cambodian provinces. Credit: CCF

Last month audiences in selected Cambodian provinces had the chance to see the Khmer film Palace of Dreams as part of the ‘Love and Relationships’ film festival sponsored by UNESCO in cooperation with the French Cultural Centre (CCF). This drama, produced in 2008 by BBC World Service Trust, aims at reducing the risk of HIV infection transmission among young people.

Palace of Dreams is a powerful 90 minute feature about young people and their relationships. It aims to entertain and encourage the target audience to adopt behaviours that will reduce their risk of HIV infection and transmission. The drama was screened in 11 Cambodian provinces by the end of March.

Although HIV rates are on the decline in Cambodia, there is no room for complacency, especially for young people, as infection rates are highest among under 24-year-olds. Some specific groups are especially in need of HIV prevention information and are a particular focus within the film:

  • out-of-school youth, including the 47% that work for a living, often far from home;
  • young people in a relationship who say they trust their partner and do not use condoms;
  • female entertainment workers;
  • men who have sex with men, who have an HIV prevalence of 5.1%, which is more than five times higher than the national average.

Installation of the equipment for the evening screening. Credit: UNESCO

Since March 2008 ‘The Cinema Road’ project (La Route du Cinema), organized by the French Cultural Centre, has shown, free of charge, several movies in 15 different provinces of Cambodia and has reached more than 30,000 viewers.

In November 2008 UNESCO’s office in Phnom Penh joined CCF in the ‘Love and Relationships’ programme, which aims to reach the maximum number of people in Cambodia and highlights challenges that the young face in intimate relationships. It focuses particularly on HIV prevention, sexuality and discrimination based on gender and/or sexual orientation; topics that formal education has been reluctant to address explicitly.

For this joint project, CCF selects French films (mostly comedies) translated into Khmer while UNESCO chooses films related to the above-mentioned subjects. Each month one movie from CCF and one from UNESCO are screened in a selected province.

Entire families attend an open-air screening. Credit: UNESCO

The screenings follow a set pattern. The CCF projectionist arrives in the province at noon and tours the town, announcing the event and inviting people to attend the show in the evening. A local NGO, responsible for distribution, organizes a prior sensitisation of the public and technical arrangements are made with the help of local people.

Entire families and groups of friends attend the open-air screening, which takes place in a workshop environment, accompanied by a facilitated discussion. When the film is finished the projectionist takes his camera and interviews young people from the audience, asking them questions related to the drama.

The project has been very well received by the public. The two movies that have drawn the greatest positive reaction are Palace of Dreams, being screened currently, and In the Dark, shown in November 2008.