Beyond the Mekong

Making Art and Finding an Edge in Cambodia

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Beyond the Mekong | Society | Southeast Asia

Making Art and Finding an Edge in Cambodia

Luke Hunt interviews German filmmaker Nico Mesterharm about arts funding in Southeast Asia and his latest documentary.

Making Art and Finding an Edge in Cambodia
Credit: Photo supplied

Nico Mesterharm has spent more than 15 years as director of Meta House in Phnom Penh, producing films, plays, and books, while offering a stage for aspiring local and international artists who have rebuilt Cambodia’s arts scene with the backing of foreign donors.

However, Cambodia is no longer a struggling post-war country nor is it a major recipient of foreign aid, with conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza grabbing the majority of the world’s attention.

For that reason, finding backers to support fresh projects in Cambodia is proving difficult but Mesterharm still has a number of works in the pipeline, including the documentary “Fraternal Help,” which details the lives of some of the 4,000 Cambodians who found refuge in the former East Germany in the 1980s.

Mesterharm spoke with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt about the relationship between Germany and Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, and what left-wing intellectuals did not want to believe about the country.

He also has some advice about what international audiences expect from Southeast Asian and Cambodian artists and how the dynamics of funding has changed, particularly for young filmmakers.

Mesterharm is also acting director of the Cambodian-German Cultural Association, co-founder of Krossover Media Berlin, and a member of the International Academy at the Free University of Berlin. In 2018, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.