FORCED marriage and rape is the harrowing topic of a new documentary titled Red Wedding, which premiered at Chenla Theatre at the weekend.
Director Chan Lida, 31, decided to shoot the personal story of Pen Sochan from Pursat province, who was forced to get married by Khmer Rouge soldiers when she was just 16 years old.
Chan Lida met her at the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in 2009 when Pen Sochan, now 48, filed a formal complaint about her forced marriage.
The director discovered many other Cambodian women had suffered a similar fate – a fact little covered in accounts of that genocidal time.
“Forced marriages happened about 30 years ago, but people have never talked freely about it because it is likely to embarrass the victims. Pen Sochan is one victim among many women who had been forced into marriage at that time,” says Chan Lida.
She sees Red Wedding as an important historical record, one that will resonate among the next generation of Cambodian women.
“Making this film is likely to give voice to the victims of forced weddings. I think this film will encourage victims to talk about their own stories as well as to transfer the message to the next generation,” says the director.
Chan Lida says she chose the title Red Wedding because red was the colour of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The film shows Pen Sochan revealing her past forced marriage and subsequent to her six children and a friend, and questioning former Khmer Rouge soldiers about why they forced people into marriage.
Pen Sochan said after the premiere of the film that she felt ashamed at the beginning of the documentary when she heard people laugh at her story, especially one scene where she said she didn’t like the man chosen for her because he looked ugly.
But the applause of the audience, saluting her courage in sharing her painful story, gave her relief and some hope, she added.
She said she was lucky that her marriage happened just a few months before the end of the regime in 1979, before Vietnamese and Cambodian troops overthrew the Khmer Rouge. Otherwise, she said, she would have been killed because she refused to accept her new husband.
In the film, she recalls her wedding day, when cadres offered her new clothes and a scarf – a rarity in that period.
She was under huge pressure to accept the forced marriage because otherwise she would be executed.
“I was very young at the time, so I didn’t know what love was,” said Pen Sochan. “I refused to sleep with him. But if I refused to accept him as my husband within three days, I knew I would be killed.
“My new husband raped me. So the day after I got married, my uncle who knew that I couldn’t accept that man as my husband, suggested that I run away.”
Pen Sochan at first sought asylum with her relatives, but nobody, not even her mother, dared to help her for fear of the whole family being executed. Fortunately, her best friend agreed to hide her from everybody and offered her food.
Pen Sochan still suffers from the shame and trauma of the rape and her first wedding. Her second husband was a government soldier who was killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers in the 1990s.
“I haven’t dared to talk about it before because I thought that my children, who were born in these times, would not believe my story,” said Pen Sochan.
The United Nations estimates that at least 250,000 Cambodian women were forced into marriage during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Bophana Audio Visual Resource Centre cooperated with the German organisation GIZ to make the documentary, which runs for one hour in Khmer with English subtitles.