Christopher Kelly’s A Cambodian Spring documents several years of protests in a small Phnom Penh community, whose inhabitants are facing eviction as part of the city’s development plans. The film charts the activism of three primary figures, two local women named Toul Srey Pov and Tep Vanny, and a Buddhist monk, Venerable Luon Sovath. Srey Pov and Vanny attempt to protect their children’s futures through protest, while Venerable Sovath’s care and interest in the plight of local Cambodians sees him facing threats from the government and the ‘monk police.’
Kelly places little emphasis on portraiture or interviews with the three protagonists, preferring to show a more candid snapshot of life in Boeung Kak as the locals struggle against the government. The result is an effective presentation of reality for poor Cambodians. The relationships between the central figures aren’t explored in detail, however, so when these begin to break down it’s not all too clear why, but the tragedy of their situation is still impossible to miss.
Filmed over a six-year period, including footage from Venerable Sovath’s own recordings, the film forms a sprawling narrative which works hard to bring cohesion to the broad subject of country-wide violence and oppression. Kelly’s laissez-faire style and film editing do, at times, run the risk of obscuring the story’s importance, as the protesters’ personal struggles and in-fighting are suddenly brought into focus just as the film ends. However, it’s a minor fault in a careful and considerate film, which allows the action and individuals to speak for themselves.
A Cambodian Spring is a heart-breaking account of the slow struggle of poverty, featuring local activists whose bravery is a humbling testament to the strength of these communities. There is no stepping back from the action in this intense documentary about greed, suffering and courage.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Kelly
WRITER: Christopher Kelly
SYNOPSIS: “A Cambodian Spring” is an intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia. Shot over six years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the ‘Cambodian spring’ and the tragic events that followed. This film is about the complexities – both political and personal, of fighting for what you believe in.
We greatly appreciate that a preview screening to this film was provided by AR:PR.