To get its message across about the importance of road safety, the Cambodian government has tried almost everything at its disposal.
Officials have held countless workshops on the importance of helmet use and the dangers of drunken driving, backed television spots and billboard advertisements to raise awareness, and disseminated shocking, but true, crash statistics to the media on a regular basis.
Now, it’s stepping into the realm of entertainment.
Starting today, a film director will begin shooting the first of 20 episodes for Whose Fault?, a dramatic series that, in the words of an official description from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which is supporting the production, tells “the poignant story of the school teenagers immersed in life and the people around them, set in ordinary Cambodian families”.
With the specific goal of helping to reduce the number of people who are killed in accidents every day – five, on average – “the story depicts the lives of young people and their flippancy towards the road”, while illustrating how “youthful plans, dreams and aspirations can disappear if young people do not pay attention to the road”.
CTN and MyTV are expected to air some of the first episodes in October, according to the director, Doung Rachana, who runs Rock Production, a film company.
“All the expenditures for producing the film story, including the payment for the actors and actresses, is handled by the ministry,” he said.
Once Whose Fault? airs on CTN and MyTV, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport will replay it on state stations and upload the series to government websites.
Ear Chariya, a road safety consultant for the ministry, said the government is working with $30,000 in funding from the Asian Development Bank, and that television stations are helping by creating free airtime.
“The script of the drama was developed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport with the film director since last year,” Chariya said. “My role right now is to advise on the script, to simplify it and to make it more interesting.”
“It’s a new way to raise awareness or to educate the general public about the safety,” he added. “Because people, they watch dramas on the TV.”
“In the past, we developed the [ad] spots for 30 seconds to broadcast, but when many people watch the movie or the drama, during the commercials, they will turn to another channel. So this is another way to send the message.”
Chariya said each show will last 35 minutes, but with commercial breaks scheduled by the networks, that will more than likely stretch to an hour.
The crew will start shooting today along National Road 1. The main plot, Chariya said, involves a woman in a rich family who “tries to violate the traffic law”.
“And there is also a guy who rides and he has an accident.”
It may not sound like On the Waterfront, but the message is just as important as the storyline. The script of the first episode illustrates how the writers strove to weave road safety themes into everyday encounters.
After the beautiful Linda calls out Yuthea for “ogling” her, he reveals that it’s not her looks that caught his eye, but her lack of proper safety equipment.
“Just know that I am a good citizen,” Yuthea says.
“How many bridges, schools, hospitals, and pagodas have you built?” Linda retorts. “How dare you feel proud of yourself?”
“I don’t feel proud of myself,” Yuthea insists, noting that, nonetheless, he has a helmet, “which you do not have”.
“Oh, my god!… It only costs 50,000 or 60,000 riel,” Linda exclaims, quickly realising the error of her ways. “When I leave here, I will buy and wear it.”
“If you put it on in time, it will be OK, but I am afraid something might happen before you put it on,” Yuthea explains. “As you can see, for a man, if he sustains injuries, his hair has to be cut unevenly and his injuries have to be stitched, and that looks so awful. And [for] a woman, she has to have her hair shaved and her injuries are also stitched. Even though they are healing, she would still have scars or marks, and if she were cute, how sorry I’d be.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA