It has been four years since a courageous forest activist Chut Wutty was gunned down by a military police officer in Koh Kong province, but his legacy lives on in the new film, “I Am Chut Wutty.”
The 50-minute documentary from producer Fran Lambrick depicts Wutty’s life as an advocate for the vast Prey Lang forest, leading patrols and groups of activists seeking to protect the landscape from the threat of illegal logging.
Lambrick this week told VOA Khmer that the film, which the government has banned from public screenings, portrayed the reality of Wutty’s dedication and sacrifice he made to protect Cambodia’s fast-shrinking forests.
“So the film is about forest activists—people who defend the forests in Cambodia. Especially, it follows the life of Chut Wutty, whom I met, whom I knew. I filmed with him in 2011,” Lambrick said.
“We met when I was going to film with Prey Lang Network who had a patrol. They went to investigate illegal logging at a particular site where the forests were being cut down in huge areas for a rubber plantation.”
The British producer said the importance of the film was not only to show the heroism of Wutty, but also the rising importance of forest people and activists who attempt to continue Wutty’s work protecting Prey Lang – one of the largest remaining evergreen forests in Southeast Asia.
"I think the film is important because it has a very inspiring person at the heart of the story. So Chut Wutty was a very courageous man, and he was very inspiring to a lot of people, hundreds of people around Cambodia who knew about him, who followed him and who wanted him to help them, especially when they had problems of land grabbing or deforestation in their community,” Lambrick said.
“This film inspires a lot of people because Chut Wutty was such a hero and because he was killed so brutally.”
“I Am Chut Wutty” was shot since late 2011, when Wutty and hundreds of members from the Prey Lang Community Network in the four provinces the forest coveres started their campaign to patrol the forest to stop land concession companies from cutting down trees illegally.
Five months after the campaign, Chut Wutty was killed while on a trip to Koh Kong province with two reporters.
His killing drew strong condemnation from international and local human rights observers who criticised the government for not providing a thorough investigation and explanation for his death.
Lambrick thinks that Wutty's heroism was an inspiration for forest activists, who are now following in his footsteps, and hopes people watching the documentary can also draw inspiration from his story.
”A lot of people, who saw it, told me that they found it inspiring,” she said. “For some people, this story, maybe they find it tragic and also a little bit scary because the threat that Chut Wutty faced was so severe and the attack was so violent; me too, having been close to the story, I find it something that makes you feel afraid, but it is also so inspiring that, I think, people would move through that fear. So, I think people respond differently.”
In a memorable scene from the film, Wutty tells Lambrick that he drew strength from the activists he worked with in Prey Lang, who were “happy and gave me blessings.”
“It is a trait that makes it hard for me to abandon the job. If I don’t do it, there won’t be many who want to do it because they are afraid,” he says.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts banned Lambrick’s film, which was due to be publicly screened at Phnom Penh’s Meta House on Wednesday, saying the screening was “illegal” because permission had not been sought.
Ministry spokesman Thai Norak Satya said that the government had asked Meta House “to abide by the law in future,” adding that the authorities would “take tough legal measures … [if it] still violated the law” by screening the film without approval.
Lambrick said the film team had contacted the government to seek permission for a future screening.
“I think they should waive this and give this film a license to be shown because the film is very important to a lot of Cambodian people. This is important for the role of the department and of culture: it is not to suppress the stories of Cambodia’s heroes but to elevate them and to share them with the world,” she said, adding that the film would be posted online on April 26 to commemorate Wutty’s death.