Cambodia isn’t a country which attracts much external press or media attention. Indeed, most people would be hard pushed to associate the Southeast Asia nation with anything other than the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields, unless they’ve visited Angkor Wat on a gap year. At the end of the last century, one of the region’s poorest countries seemed to have started a new chapter with the election of Prime Minister Hun Sen. However, whilst the economy is growing relatively quickly, poverty is rife. Lip service is often paid to human rights.
A Cambodian Spring, the new film from Chris Kelly, focusses on land rights in Cambodia. Forced evictions are rife, with an estimated three-quarters-of-a-million citizens being displaced whilst corrupt officials feather their nests. Kelly follows three activists as they fight for land rights. The Venerable Luon Sovath is a Buddhist monk who risks being ‘defrocked’ to take a stand. Toul Srey Pov is a housing rights activist and Tep Vanny has been dubbed a ‘professional protestor’ by the authorities.
Filmed during the six years leading up to the tragic events its title suggests, A Cambodian Spring provides an extraordinary insight into the background of the conflict. Kelly has eye-opening access to the key players and there is some incredibly intimate, powerful and awe-inspiring footage. He captures Boeung Kak in all its beauty and squalor, whilst James Holden’s soundtrack adds an edginess to proceedings. The film would, however, have probably benefited from losing thirty minutes or so on the cutting-room floor. A Cambodian Spring is a powerful documentary about the struggle for basic human rights in a country which is essentially a dictatorship in all but name.
A Cambodian Spring will premiere at Curzon Soho on 17 May and is released in cinemas from 18 May.