PHNOM PENH — Australian movie “Buoyancy” that follows the life of a Cambodian boy being trafficked into working on a Thai fishing trawler – mirroring real life stories – has won the Best Youth Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane.
The feature-length movie, directed by Australian director Rodd Rathjen, follows the story of a 14-year-old Cambodian, Chakra, who travels to Thailand to find work. But, he instead gets tricked by a broker into working 22-hour days on a fishing trawler, often witnessing torture and murder.
The script is inspired by true stories documented by the filmmaker, who conducted interviews and research with victims of trafficking, relevant NGOs, used secondary documents and even talked to former trawler captains.
“The emotional and psychological experience and impact that they have about migrating to Thailand is the heart of the film,” said Rathjen, a few days after the films release in Phnom Penh in October.
Rights groups and news organizations have documented the abuse of undocumented workers in Thailand’s fishing sector, often involving human trafficking and brutalization of fishers on Thai fishing boats. The Thai government has been put on notice by the European Union and United States with threats of scaling back seafood imports, resulting some reforms in the fishing sector.
Human Rights Watch has said, after a detailed survey of 248 current and former fishers, that the reforms had little impact on the abuses committed in Thailand’s fishing sector.
“The Thai government’s lack of commitment means that regulations and programs to prevent forced labor in the fishing industry are failing,” said HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams in 2018.
Tens of thousands of economically-vulnerable men from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have faced bonded labor on these fishing trawlers, including Cambodian national Vannak Anan Prum, 41 and trafficking victim, who released a graphic novel documenting his experience aboard a fishing trawler.
Rathjen said that he got the inspiration to make the film because he was “blown away” by the experiences of men working aboard these trawlers and produced the film to bring their voices to the world.
“I feel like they are forgotten voices and it’s a really important humanitarian issue in the fishing industry, so I want to bring this story to the world,” Rathjen said.
The filmmaker added that he was planning to screen the movie in rural communities in Cambodian provinces, where migration to Thailand was high. Estimates suggest that as many as a million Cambodians work in Thailand, and thousands more in South Korea and Malaysia.
The film was also submitted as Australia’s nominee among the list of submissions to the 92nd Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. The winner of the prestigious award category is set to be announced on February 9, 2020. It also premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival this February, winning multiple awards.