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Acid Attack Film Debuts in Portland

“Finding Face,” which examines the life of Tat Marina, a karaoke star who was terribly disfigured and nearly killed in an acid attack, will show in Portland on Sunday.

Meanwhile, members of her family have gone into hiding under the protection of UNHCR, for fear of reprisals.

Tat Marina was the mistress of a powerful official, whose wife is suspected behind the attack. Acid attacks are a common phenomenon in post-war Cambodia.

The film is narrated by Tat Marina herself, making it sound as though she is telling her story to the audience, said the filmmaker, Sky Fitzgerald.

The film was produced by SpinFilm, and organizers hope Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium screening will see thousands of attendees, including US representatives. The screening will be followed by a question-answer session with Tat Marina.

“It is my belief that it is a fundamental human right, that one has a chance to speak their mind to tell their story and not be silenced by others because simply they are in a more powerful position in a particular country,” Fitzgerald said. “So I became very committed to ensure that [Marina’s] family had an outlet in a way that they hadn’t for a very long time.”

Tat Marina was doused with nitric acid in December 1999 while feeding porridge to her niece at a market in Phnom Penh. The film demonstrates that Tat Marina had a secret affair with Svay Sitha, who was then an undersecretary of state at the powerful Council of Ministers.

“When Marina was wounded, we were pressured and threatened not to file a complaint,” said the victim’s older sister, Tat Pov Rachana, speaking to VOA Khmer by phone while in hiding. “We’ve lived in pain for nine or 10 years now.”

Eight of Tat Marina’s family, including four children, fled Cambodia the day before the film was premiered, at a human rights film festival in Geneva in March.

“I also miss my country, but the suffering and injustice clouding over my family makes us unable to stand it any longer,” Tat Pov Rachana said, sobbing.

Meanwhile, police officials in the family’s neighborhood said they were surprised the family had fled.

“They left without informing us, and I don’t even know at which location they lived,” said Yin San, police inspector of January 7 district.

The family did not go to the police for protection as the film debuted.

“They came to Licadho and other organizations for their protection and safety,” Om Sam Ath, chief investigator for Licadho, told VOA Khmer Monday. “They said they cannot go on living in Cambodia, due to a film about their true life and Marina’s and fear of threats and repression.”

VOA Khmer was not able to reach Khoun Sophal, the wife of Svay Sitha, to check on her involvement in the case. Sources say she is living a normal life with Svay Sitha, who has now been promoted to secretary of state.

Reached by phone, Svay Sitha declined to comment, and an aid said he did not want to remember the incident.

Fitzgerald said he plans to have the documentary shown in many states and on television in the US. He hopes to screen it in Cambodia but is not sure if officials will allow it. The next step is to put the film on DVD format and distribute it in Cambodia.