An Interview with Olivier Planchon, director of the Institut Français. The French cultural centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary of operations in Cambodia this year
What events have you got lined up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Institut Français?
Many throughout the year, with a special focus this month. On April 6, we’ll open three exhibitions: one archive documentary, one with 20 1x1metre paintings imagined by 20 artists the Institut has worked with, and a the third exhibition that will be the first retrospective of Khmer-French artist Sera. And last but not least, a performance by Seth, a young Khmer-French ‘grapheur’. We will also present a great fashion show by Lim Keo, a designer of impressive talent and a great link between Paris and Phnom Penh. At the Chenla Theatre we will present a concert of innovative reggae music by Senegalese-born Naby and, later in the month, an amazing Opera show, L’enfant et les sortilèges, Maurice Ravel’s masterpiece by the children’s choir of The Opéra de Paris – one hundred people on stage.
What have you got planned for graffiti artist Julien ‘Seth’ Malland?
Seth will paint his sweet graphic improvisations in 10 spots in the city – one of them being the Institut Français. He will use plain common walls. Seth’s art is so elegant and funny, they are kind of things you want your children and friends to experience.
How does Naby’s concert reflect the evolution of the capital’s live music scene?
Two years ago, a reggae event would have been a real challenge. It still is now, but the audience is more open and eager for discovery. That is making a difference. Phnom Penh has become a real and rich place for all kinds of music, welcoming cultural approaches from all horizons.
Institute Français has changed its name three times in 20 years, why so many name changes?
I think what is important is to work on a cultural and creative dialogue between France and Cambodia, whatever the name. The Institut has been achieving this objective for 20 years.
What would a look through the Institute’s archive show?
Passion. I think passion is the word that has guided our way through these years. Passion and curiosity for every kind of artistic expression, and people.
How has the budget cut affected your event agenda?
Yes, 2012 was not a great year from a budget point of view. We had to cancel some of our projects. The Lakhaon theatre festival for instance will be a little less important than we had imagined. But we will keep it, with the amazing creation in Khmer language of “Cambodge me voici” (Cambodia, I’m here), the wonderful text of Jean-Baptiste Phou, about nostalgia pains, cultural breaks and faithfulness to history and hope.
To what degree does the Embassy and its political arm oversee the direction of the Institute Français?
Oh, it’s not a matter of power. It’s a team job, we have a great embassy, which is very open to cultural projects – and with a total respect for our vision.
What have been the highlights of the past 20 years?
Brilliant moments like Les nuits d’Angkor and Phnom Penh Hip-Hop. But the best has been helping put local artists on the international stage.