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A participant in the World Vision Youth Film Contest shoots a scene for their entry. World vision

Winning film tells drug users’ stories

HiddenVoices – a collaborative production by young people from the organisation Children for Change documenting the struggles of recovering drug addicts at a rehabilitation centre outside Phnom Penh – was yesterday named winner of World Vision’s Youth Film Contest.

For the competition, young amateur filmmakers submitted films of under five minutes each on one of four themes that the NGO has identified as priorities: unemployment, migration, gangs and substance abuse.

World Vision had no shortage of entries for the local competition: the winner and six runners-up, chosen via a combination of online votes and judge selection, came from a pile of 23 films uploaded online.

“What we see on the Facebook app now is probably only about a third of stuff that was submitted,” pointed out Jay Lawrence Till, senior communications manager at World Vision.

“Being a child-focused organisation we needed to be sure any videos being seen on line are child appropriate. And original.”

The injunction to “open our hearts and ears to these hidden voices” is the take-home message of Hidden Voices, with addicts sharing stories of abusive parents, and families who kicked them out of home the moment there was any hint of drug abuse.

“If we understand them clearly, that will make their problems better by changing their habits,” said Lim Leang Horng, who produced the film.

“We think that drug users must have something that makes them use it, so we should deepen the thinking.”

It was the documentary-style approach that won plaudits from the judges.

“It wasn’t a dramatised story at all, because we were hearing several first person accounts and getting really intimate responses from the young adults who had dealt with drugs,” explained Till. “We were really touched by that.”

The film also eschewed the karaoke-like narrative of some films in the competition, where stage fights, dramatic deaths and seedy drug dens were favoured tropes amongst the young producers.

Perhaps because of their lesser dramatic potential, almost no films were made in the migration and unemployment categories.

“It’s very easy to shoot somebody taking drugs or acting high, it is harder to film issues around migration or unemployment,” Till reasoned.

For World Vision, film is part of a strategy that goes beyond social media.

In their Creative Youth program – currently being rolled out to 1,176 children across nine provinces – computer and camera skills are taught to young Cambodians via the unusual approach of not actually teaching them at all.

In the place of instructors, participants are given a question to answer and equipped with the computers and cameras needed to construct an engaging answer they can share with the class.

“At first there were some interesting tensions when they realised there was no teacher,” said Till.

“It’s very much rote learning in rural areas. Children rely on direct instruction.”

But, he says, through trial and error, the participants normally find their ways to the answers, with Google Translate and YouTube tutorials being the first stepping stones.

“As momentum builds week by week we see great progress in terms of quality of projects, engagement with the program and their level of confidence in themselves to be able to problem solve,” he said.

After Lim Leang Horng’s big win for Hidden Voices, which has nabbed his team new camera equipment and a film course, the 23-year-old hopes to make another film – this time telling the same story from a family perspective.

“It’s just half of our film,” he said of his winning entry.

“We want to hear from both sides – the victims and their families. We want them to both understand each other.”

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