Hot Docs 2017 A Cambodian Spring

Hot Docs 2017: A Cambodian Spring Review

International Spectrum 

Chris Kelly’s excellent documentary examines the widening rift in a country beleaguered by a corrupt, apparently “democratic,” government. The residents of Boeung Kak used to live bordering a pristine lake which aided their day-to-day lives: giving their children a place to play and allowing the Buddhist monks a place for contemplation. Now, that lake is no more than a puddle. It’d be one thing if it was just the lake, but the lake is the beginning of a nightmare for some 300,000 residents of the area. Control of the land that is rightfully theirs has been wrested from them and given to corporate interests, and citizens are facing instantaneous evictions as they witness their cherished homes be bulldozed right in front of them.

The documentary follows three activists: two mothers, Toul Srey Pov and Tep Vanny, and a Buddhist monk that is also a video activist, Luon Sovath. Sovath is a true documentarian in the sense of the word – putting himself in danger to record accurate footage in order to send to the UN and other human rights organizations/press that might be able to do something. A challenge is that the World Bank is currently donating money to the Cambodian government, but that money is not helping the citizens that need it most. The activists, gathering the support of the community, convinces the World Bank to stop funding the corrupt dealings of the Cambodian government in order to incentivize the President, Nun Sen, to clean up his mess. This only works for a time, however, since there are “turncoats” within the ranks of the activists that create divisions within the community, which then escalate to bloody, fatal riots, that are all documented on film – this film.

The film showcases first-hand how a black and white matter (corporations vs. the little person) becomes gray when your friends and family are involved, and all are living in intense impoverished conditions. If the government can give you a little money just to help your situation and help you feed your kids, what does it matter if you choose not to protest the next day? All protesting ever achieved from 2006 to 2015 is getting a few people in and out of an infamous prison, anyway.


The film also showcases a man’s quest for spiritual enlightenment and courage. Sovath is told by his Buddhist superiors to immediately cease his support and documentation of the protests, as it is not “Buddhist” to do so. The police team up with monks to persecute him wherever he goes, and he faces the prospect of being defrocked or even assassinated since “religion belongs to the government.”

There are three heroes that feature in this film, and many more are created by those who fight for basic human decency. However, by the film’s end, some of that clarity is lost and civil war threatens to erupt. Events like these could very well happen on our shores, so it’s worth it to pay attention.


Wed, May 3 6:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre


Thu, May 4 12:30 PM Hart House Theatre

Sun, May 7 6:15 PM Toronto Centre for the Arts

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