A new documentary exploring the impact of acid attacks premiered Wednesday, March 11, 2009, at a film festival and human rights forum in Geneva, raising questions of impunity that persist in Cambodia.
“Finding Face” investigates acid attacks through the story of victim Tat Marina, a karaoke star who was doused with a liter of nitric acid allegedly by the jealous wife of a senior government official.
Tat Marina was attacked on December 5, 1999, while she was having porridge with her niece at a Phnom Penh market.
Nearly 10 years have passed, but her older brother, Tat Sequndo, continues to encourage his sister to seek justice for the attack.
“I asked her to come forward to find justice for herself, because she is the victim, not me. I always told her to find justice for the country, the people, and for herself," Tat Sequndo says in the documentary.
Tat Marina appears more calm and mature in the film, a contrast to the mischievous face she put on in her performances some 10 years ago. Despite several reconstructive surgeries, scars are visible on her face and chest. These are what she has to live with for the rest of her life.
In the documentary, Tat Marina’s family expressed disappointment when they saw video footage shown to them by Tat Sequndo. It is the first time they have seen her picture in the more than eight years since Tat Marina was given asylum and received treatment in the US.
The footage left her older sister, Srey Pou, speechless and in shock. Meanwhile, Tat Marina's mother believes that beauty is a curse.
“She was a beautiful girl. She was too beautiful. It’s a burden. Mom feels so sorry for you, it’s breaking my heart,” she said.
Tat Marina says in the documentary she is coming to terms with what happened to her.
“My family, I don't want anything to happen to them. Right now, I’m not scared no more, because she already got what she wanted,” she says.
The film features Tat Marina and her child at about four years of age, though the identity of the father is not revealed.
“If I could make it, we will have a family life. The mummy and the son together in a happy family. Everyone wish for (a) happy ending. I know that it is only a dream, but sometime dreams do come true,” she says.
The acid attack topic caught producer Skye Fitzgerald’s attention while he worked on another film in Cambodia. When he and his team started working on the movie, he saw a mixture of fear and reluctance. For instance, it took Tat Marina and her brother a while before they agreed to participate, fearing reprisal.
In the documentary, Tat Sequndo is heard telling family members to watch for their safety, and he gives them phone numbers of international organizations in case of possible threats.
“This is who we met with. When there is a problem, contact these places: UN Center for Human Rights, the US Embassy, the Cambodia Daily and LICADHO. When there is a problem with threats, because they may know what we are doing,” he says.
Tat Marina’s former lover, Svay Sitha, has now been promoted from the rank of undersecretary of state at the Council of Ministers. He could not be reached for comment on the film.
His two telephone numbers were answered by two different females saying they did not know him; a third number went unanswered.
Svay Sitha’s wife, Khun Sophal, identified by witnesses at the scene of the 1999 attack, remains at large, despite police affirmation that the case is not yet closed.
An investigating judge who once told reporters an arrest warrant had been issued for Khun Sophal now says he can’t remember whether he handled the case.
This documentary, "Finding Face", confronts us with injustice, despair, and sympathetic to Tat Marina's, who is now just beginning to pick up the broken pieces, while trying to leave her history behind, and moving forward into the future of her life with her son.