Stanley Harper started work on his movie Cambodian Dreams 20 years ago. It hits the big screen in Phnom Penh this month.
Twenty years after he began work on it, Stanley Harper’s
movie Cambodian Dreams is ready for
release March 27 at Chaktomuk Theatre in a ceremony to be presided over by
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
The film documents the parallel stories of rural farm grandmother
Yan Chheing’s struggle in a refugee camp in Thailand,
and her daughter’s hard life in the rice fields of Cambodia. It will air on all
national TV stations simultaneously.
At the Council of Ministers last week, Sok An honored Chheing,
the unlikely film star, praising her for her love of Cambodia and her unwavering work
ethic portrayed in the film.
The spirited grandmother told the ministers she had refused
to "sit and grow fat” in the refugee camp because it was better to always work
hard whatever the circumstances.
On screen, Chheing often voices her frustration at having to
live like a "parasite” on handouts at the refugee camp and not being able to
work to earn a living. She desperately tries to ingrain this work ethic into
her grandchildren through both her stories of the past and her example during
their many years as refugees, expressing a fear they would "be content with
life in the camps because it is all they know.”
Although he had met Chheing two years earlier while working
on a BBC documentary, Harper, a New
Zealander who is a long time resident of
Phnom Penh, said he began work on Cambodian
Dreams in 1988.
The filming took place in two locations – site 2 refugee
camp about 50km from the Thai border town of Poipet and a village near Battambang where
Chheing’s daughter Tha struggled to work a small piece of land with her husband
During the 1980s hostilities ran high between those who fled
to refugee camps and rural farmers who stayed behind to rebuild the country
despite the hardships.
Yan Chheing, whose life the Cambodian Dreams film is based around, receives gifts from Deputy Prime Minister Sok An during a ceremony at the Council of Ministers, Phnom Penh, on February 25.
Harper cited the jealousy and animosity felt toward those
who seemed to be living an easy life in the camps with food, clothing, shelter
Meanwhile, in the camps, families struggled to find meaning
to their lives and longed to return to their homeland.
Harper said his intention was to document both sides to promote
understanding and reconciliation, firstly between this particular family and
then throughout the country by telling their story.
"I don’t know what impact the film will have but it is time
for Khmer people to realize they are one people and need to help each other and
be proud of who they are,” he said. "We need to work together. This is my
In a review for the Los
Angeles Times, film critic David Thomas described the film as "a
heartbreaking yet understated study of individuals longing for their roots and
craving the dignity of self sufficiency.”
Chheing who now lives in Battambang, said she was very happy
and excited to be invited by Sok An for the meeting.
"I never thought my life could be as good as this,” she
Chheing said when she was first approached by Harper about
the film she agreed because she thought it would be fun.
"He told me to wait and see,” Chheing said. "I was shocked
when I came here and saw myself in the film yesterday. I never thought it would
be such a big deal.”
discussion among government officials and those involved in the film’s
production, Sok An presented Chheing with gifts of rice, noodles, bedding and