An intimate portrait of three people caught up in a chaotic and aggressive sweep of forced evictions and land grabbing in the name of “economic progress” is provided by Chris Kelly in his angry new documentary A Cambodian Spring (now on release in selected cinemas).
Shot over six years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the Cambodian Spring of 2013 and the tragic events that followed. The opening of the movie states that in 1993, after decades of civil war, the United Nations set up Cambodia’s first ever democratic elections and established a free market economy. This marked the beginning of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule over Cambodia that continues to this day.
We are then introduced to two fearless women, children in tow, who take charge and lead the growing movement in their community of Boeung Kak repeatedly facing imprisonment and violence. Their struggle is against Shukaku Inc, a company that wants to redevelop the land. As the developer pumps the sand houses in the village are flooded. The police turn a blind eye and the government remains silent while corruption is said to be ‘at its height’, the people unite in mass protests.
The main character in the film, however, is the Buddhist monk and award-winning activist Venerable Luon Sovath, who is harassed, censored and evicted by his own religious leaders when he becomes a key figure in the protest movement. Sovath remains unwavering in his conviction that “ if we confront our own fears, then we can be brave. But if we try to run away from our problems, then our problems will follow us.”
The documentary charts the complexities, both political and personal of fighting for what you believe and features extensive newsreel footage of widespread protest marches, graphic scenes of police brutality and lost lives. It raises many questions from which there are no easy answers, such as: what should the people of Boeung Kak say or do when their houses are at stake and when they stand to lose everything built up over a lifetime within minutes?
This, then, is a powerful movie but one that is overlong and weakened by endless repetition. However, there is no denying its sense of urgency and feeling that the Boeung Kak residents’ struggle is everyone’s struggle in the fight against corruption and injustice.
A Cambodian Spring
Showing in selected cinemas nationwide.