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‘A Tomb for Khun Srun’ Recalls One of Cambodia’s Writers

Screenshot of the Cambodia International Film Festival website.
Screenshot of the Cambodia International Film Festival website.

Khun Srun’s story ended tragically when he was executed in 1978 by the Khmer Rouge, which had by then taken power.

The voice of Cambodian writer Khun Srun resonates not only in the country’s past, but also in its present. The life and work of a remarkable Cambodian teacher, poet and author is remembered in a new documentary film screened for the first time in the capital this month.

The film, “A Tomb for Khun Srun” was made by Eric Galmard, a teacher of literature and film who has worked in Cambodia and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region since 1990.

The film tells the story of Khun Srun, who worked as a high school mathematics teacher and was a member of the Ministry of Education’s textbook editorial committee at the end of the 1960s.

After Cambodia descended into civil war, Khun Srun made the decision in 1973 to join revolutionary guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge to fight against the government of the day.

Khun Srun’s story ended tragically when he was executed in 1978 by the Khmer Rouge, which had by then taken power.

“A Tomb for Khun Srun” was screened for the first time as part of the Cambodia International Film Festival, an event that aims not only to present other cultures and exchange ideas, but also to provide an opportunity for both young and experienced filmmakers to showcase their work.

Screenings of the film Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Phnom Penh’s Bophana Center were attended by about 120 people, according to the organizers, who said the film was well received. The documentary was shown in the Khmer language with English subtitles, and the screenings were followed by question and answer sessions.

Galmard told VOA Khmer that he wanted the film to expose young Cambodians to Khun Srun’s work in the hope that they too would be inspired by the writer.

“I am inspired of Khun Srun’s poems and books, and I believe that his work should be known and heard of by Cambodian youths, as I have known that only few Cambodian youths are aware of Khun Srun’s work,” he said.

“I have learnt through his work that those works are a lot related to Khmer culture, and his understanding of his generation is still useful to the society nowadays,” Galmard added. “For example, if he [Khun Srun] wrote a critical article or poem about corruption or land disputes, he would write it with associative meaning.”

Roeun Leakhena, a 23-year-old independent filmmaker, praised the film’s structure, which she said kept the subject interesting.

“I have watched a lot of documentaries, but when I watch this documentary, I found that the producer used a new pattern in the production process which is very interesting,” she said, “not like other documentaries that made me feel sleepy or bored.”

Another audience member, 47-year-old Royal University of Phnom Penh lecturer Im Lim said watching the documentary stirred deep emotions.

“I am happy to know that the film about [Khun Srun] has been produced, and to know that he has been recognized by people, because not many people know about Khun Srun’s achievements, for which I feel regret,” Im Lim said.

Im Lim added that Khun Srun’s achievements were so great that the film could not entirely do justice to the writer’s work, which touched on many of the issues that trouble Cambodia to this day.

“There are many lessons, such as the life of the rich and the poor, the exploitation of the vulnerable by higher authorities, and the issue of land,” he said.