It is written into local family folklore that my great grandmother had her house bulldozed in the 1960s in the name of progress. This is an event which happened long before my birth but which could not have been illustrated more vividly than when the wrecking ball set’s about its destruction of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood in local director Chris Kelly’s award-winning A Cambodian Spring, shown in his native Derry on Thursday last to mark world press freedom day.
At the centre of this David v’s Goliath tale are Tou Srev Pov, a mother of three children and housing activist who has worked hard to give her family a life. Her best friend Tep Vanny who, because of her better command of English soon becomes the group’s self-appointed leader.
Shot over six years it is the politicization of a community who are simply trying to live their lives in peace.
Throw into this mix Venerable Lion Sovath who stands by the community that he lives among, even though it gets him into trouble with the “Monk Police”; in Cambodia, it seems that everything is scrutinized.
As events escalate Srey Pov finds herself being arrested for her activities with the housing rights group. Sent to jail and awaiting trial one of the most poignant scene’s occur when her eldest daughter, left at home to care for her younger siblings, is reduced to tears. Although ultimately acquitted the events take their toll on Srey Pov and she is forced to leave the movement for the sake of her family, leaving Tell Vanny; dubbed “a professional protester” by the Cambodian government, in charge of the group.
Throughout A Cambodian Spring, Kelly vividly displays the Cambodia the authorities want to hide, giving the people the voice that they have been denied by others.
The neighborhood of Boen Kak isn’t a shiny neighbourhood with polished doorsteps and nice neat gardens, but to these people, it’s still home. Kelly’s talent lies in being able to bring the muck and the dirt and the air of Boen Kak out of the screen and fill your senses. This is an unmissable film which touches the soul.
A Cambodian Spring is currently on a tour of the UK and Ireland, it is being screened in the Brunswick cinebowl until 10th May.
NB: Since this screening of A Cambodian Spring, it has been nominated for a BAFTA