Three activists fight to save their homes from being bulldozed in a documentary stymied by its awkward pacing
Filmed over a period of six years, this documentary from the Irish director Chris Kelly looks closely at the violence and uprisings that began in 2007 following a painful and protracted land conflict over Boeung Kak lake in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.
Prime minister Hun Sen (ruling autocrat since 1985) authorised the Boeung Kak community to be bulldozed by a private building development company, resulting in forced evictions and the lake flooding with sand. With no rehousing plan in place, residents must watch as their homes are destroyed. The injustice galvanises them into action, but protesters of all ages are met with brutality; manhandled, targeted by water cannon and beaten to a pulp by the police. Kelly follows three local activists – two young and fearsome mothers named Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov and an outspoken Buddhist monk, Luon Sovath, whose peers threaten to “defrock” him for his politics.
The film covers a fascinating period in Cambodian politics, but clocking in at two hours and split into several uneven chapters, it’s inefficiently organised. The awkward pacing isn’t helped by the frequent interjection of title cards, which are dense with explanatory text and difficult to follow.
There’s a rawness to the police brutality Kelly shows, using footage shot on a cameraphone at close range. Equally compelling are the human stories at the film’s core, such as the bitter fallout between one-time friends Vanny and Srey Pov, as the former rises to prominence within the UN. Most moving – and enraging – of all is Srey Pov’s young daughter screaming at the authorities to “release my mum”. Over the phone, while Srey Pov is in prison (two years, no trial), she tells her mother: “They won’t hear me if I don’t shout.”
A Cambodian Spring Trailer | Right Now Film Festival 2018
Dir. Christopher Kelly
An intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia. Shot over six years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the Cambodian Spring and the tragic attempt to overthrow the dictatorial government of Hun Sen, which has been in power for more than thirty years. A documentary about the complexities - both political and personal - of fighting for what you believe in.
A CAMBODIAN SPRING will be playing at Right Now Film Festival 2018, which returns to independent cinemas across the UK between the 21st - 27th of March. Find out more at https://www.rightnowfilmfestival.org