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Film Examining Cambodia’s Development Screening at Sundance

A scene from ' A River Changes Course' film.
A scene from ' A River Changes Course' film.
WASHINGTON DC - “A River Changes Course,” a documentary about the lives of three Cambodians suffering under the rapid development of their country, is now screening at the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah.

Filmmaker Mam Kalyanee told VOA Khmer from the festival that the film was meant to show how development in Cambodia “affects our people’s lives and environment.”

“I want to show that it has affected our people, especially those who rely on the forest like the indigenous people. On another front, how this affects minorities residing along the river,” she said. That includes minorities, such as the Cham, or rural families whose daughters work in garment factories. “I wanted to highlight how their lives have changed,” she said.

The 83-minute film is one of 119 feature-length films representing 32 different countries. It was selected from 4,000 different submissions.

Mam Kalyanee, who was the director of photography on the Oscar-winning “Inside Job,” spent four years following her three young subjects, as they struggled with questions over living off Cambodia’s natural resources, or joining its modernization process.

“I feel like my life is divided in half,” one of the subjects, Khieu Mok, who is forced to work in a garment factory far from home, says in the film. “Honestly speaking, all Khmer girls working in factories are divided in half. We work in the factory because there aren’t enough rice fields to work on.”

"River Changes Course" Screens at Sundance Film Festival
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Her life is dominated by the sounds of sewing machines. But in another part of Cambodia, for Sav Samourn, who belongs to one of Cambodia’s 24 indigenous groups, the sound of progress is that of bulldozers.

“Before, we would not dare walk through here,” she says of the forest. “There were tigers, bears, and elephants. Now, all the wild animals are gone. We used to be afraid of wild animals and ghosts. Now we’re afraid of people. The elders say they’re afraid of people cutting down the forests.”

Such impacts continue for Sary, a fisherman forced to work at a Chinese plantation due to fish scarcity, until the film encompasses many of the development challenges facing Cambodia today.

Chhang Youk, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, who is listed as executive producer of the film, said the stories of the three Cambodians expands the public’s understanding of Cambodia—and moves the story of Cambodia forward.

“We cannot and we will not be Khmer Rouge victims for the rest of our lives,” he said. “Producing this documentary means that we are no longer a victim, and we have lived, documented genocide, put Khmer Rouge leaders in jail, and taught our children about the atrocity. We will continue to teach our children and remember this killing and will prevent it from happening again. Looking forward means that we are no longer a victim and we, the Cambodians, must compete in the new trend of globalization to improve our lives and build a future for our children.”