Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Kelly’

A Cambodian Spring ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th May, 2018

A Cambodian SpringWhen the wave of popular uprisings — given the misnomer The Arab Spring — swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, few of us international journalists paid much attention to what was going on over in Cambodia. But for some time already, residents of marginal housing round Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh, had been protesting about the flooding and in some cases destruction of their homes because of land reclamation and the industrial activities of a company with close links to senior figures in the government. Chris Kelly’s documentary, A Cambodian Spring, shot over a period of six years, focuses in particular on two young women activists in that campaign, who speak truth to power, though later they were to have an irrevocable personal falling out. Assisting them at times was a media-savvy Buddhist monk, the Venerable Sovath, who filmed the harassment of demonstrators and the demolition of homes and increasingly became an outspoken activist himself, to the extent that he was evicted from his pagoda by a religious hierarchy that accused him of having become political. Such occurrences reminded me of the Buddhist monks who self-immolated in Saigon during my period in Vietnam, though nothing so extreme occurred with Sovath. The rather idyllic city of Phnom Penh that I remembered from 1969 would soon have its population expelled wholesale by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge to the countryside, where hundreds of thousands perished in the killing fields, while others were instead tortured and murdered in hideous urban concentration camps. A later Vietnamese invasion therefore came as something of a relief, but the Cambodian People’s Party government of Hun Sen that has been top dog for the past 30 years has proved itself to be less interested in defending the rights of poor people but rather in allowing key figures and allies to enrich themselves, including through land grabs.

Sam RainsyHad Chris Kelly just limited his film to the story of the three main protagonists and had he provided an effective running commentary throughout, I think A Cambodian Spring  would have been a very powerful movie. Instead, the viewer is left to make his or her own sense of what is going on, and in the first part the story is confused by some coverage of farmers in Siem Reap province who were also clashing with the authorities. Later, the opposition politician Sam Rainsy [pictured] is suddenly shown returning to Phnom Penh from exile, to be met by enthusiastic crowds, but we are not told that he would soon have to flee again, his democratic tail between his legs, under merciless assault from the government and state media. The film runs to two hours, which is probably 30 minutes too long; some strict editing would have been beneficial. As it is, there is much that will fascinate those who want to learn more about Cambodia. But should a documentary leave quite so many unanswered questions?

A CAMBODIAN SPRING will premiere at Curzon Soho on 17th May 6.30pm and released in cinemas from 18th May

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