17th May 2018 (UK)
"A Cambodian Spring" is 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 events that followed.
In Chris Kelly’s revealing and anger-provoking documentary A Cambodian Spring, the trouble begins when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen authorizes the bulldozing and flooding of the Boeung Kak community, essentially making the 20,000 or so residents homeless. The film becomes an intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia.
Rather than swooping in at important moments or times of election, director Christopher Kelly shot the documentary over the course of six years, resulting in a more complete and in-depth picture of the dire situation. He successfully captures the changing landscape (figuratively and literally – the flooding makes the village look like the aftermath of a natural disaster, yet it’s an entirely man-made situation) of Cambodia and the devastating effects on the nation’s residents; specifically, activists Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov as well as a Buddhist monk named Luon Sovath who extensively films the protests.
A Cambodian Spring is a tough watch for a variety of reasons, with the most prominent being its shocking and uncompromising imagery. Kelly and Sovath are continuously in the centre of the protests, risking their lives to shoot footage of daily violence and mistreatment of Cambodians that would seem unthinkable on the streets of Western countries. One scene, in particular, is utterly harrowing and infuriating to watch as diggers smash their way through the homes of people at the mercy of a corrupt Government.
But that doesn’t stop them from trying to fight back. As the machines flatten their residences, they take a stand against the police and digger operators by throwing rocks, bricks, sticks and anything they can find lying around back at the perpetrators. It’s a fiercely defiant but ultimately futile move as the numbers game of the police overpowers the instigators, inflicting what looks to be life-changing injuries to one protester.
Another reason that adds to it being difficult viewing is more to do with the films coherence and ability to follow. A little more background information on the Prime Minister, the government as a whole and its involvement with Shukaku Inc, the private development company who received the land, would have helped matters. A complete lack of narrator and brief title cards with only small introductions to what is occuring means A Cambodian Spring requires your complete, undivided attention for its over 2 hour runtime – but that’s likely to happen anyway due to its engrossing if heavy subject.
At its core, A Cambodian Spring champions the strength in solidarity against the greatest of odds. A number of unjust decisions are appealed by the masses made up of people of all ages and, more often than not, give the protesters a small victory in a much larger fight. But it also reinforces and reminds that, while entirely necessary to raise your voice when wrongdoing is rampant, activism comes at a price – and sometimes it’s one that must be paid, regardless of the consequences.
A CAMBODIAN SPRING is in UK cinemas now http://acambodianspring.com/
Kelly's fearless filmmaking
Shocking imagery should be a wake-up call for the rest of the world
The strength of community in the face of overwhelming adversity is nothing short of inspiring
A little more information on the Prime Minister and his connection to the private development company would have been helpful