After three years spent filming the lives of three extraordinary individuals including an HIV-positive widow and a monk turned human-rights defender, a hard-hitting documentary about the human cost of development in Cambodia will be released next year.
The Cause for Progress explores the impact of development on modern society in Cambodia through following the lives of three individuals caught up in a struggle to live and survive in the face of forced eviction.
Irish filmmaker Chris Kelly, 31, became interested in Cambodia when he visited in 2006 as a tourist, and decided he wanted to make a film about the country – dealing with a subject not commonly covered by film.
“I had seen a lot of films about Cambodia. They were mostly about the Khmer Rouge and the tribunals,” Kelly says.
“I wanted to say something about what was happening currently in Cambodia… [and] what the problems were.”
After doing research and talking to Cambodians, he realised “it was pretty obvious that land rights and human rights [violations] and corruption were problematic issues for modern-day life, so I wanted to try and address them.”
The subjects of his film, Prak Sopheap, from Borei Keila village, the Venerable Loun Sovath, from Chi Kreng village, and Toul Srey Pov, from Boeung Kak Lake, are all members of communities uprooted in forced evictions.
Prak Sopheap, a widow and mother to two children, was forcibly evicted a total of three times: first from her home at Borei Keila when the construction project began, then twice more from the temporary accommodation provided by the government.
“She’s one of the bravest people I know,” Kelly says.
“Her attitude was that, if she could do something to help other people, it was worthwhile, even if it meant sacrificing her own future.
“I’m very, very glad to know her and have her as a friend.”
Buddhist monk the Venerable Loun Sovath, who was recently awarded the Matin Ennals Award for human rights, has seen his life transformed since filming began: from an unknown monk to an internationally recognised human-rights defender who is now in the US, pushing for support for his community.
Sovath says he has been threatened with arrest and defrocking multiple times.
“What drew me to him was the fact that he was filming [everything] on his mobile phone [while giving a speech on protesting],” Kelly says.
“I’ve been very fortunate in the sense that I’ve been able to chart his astronomical transformation.”
Although he is sceptical about what change his film can bring, Kelly is optimistic that the film can highlight the issues to the public.
“It can ignite and contribute to meaningful debates – and that can bring about change,” he says. “So many of my Cambodian friends never knew what was happening in their own country... and me, an outsider, told them about it, and I think that’s really crazy. People should be aware of everything around them.”
Filming, which began in June, 2009, was completed in October, 2012, and is now in its post-production stage.
The film is expected to be released in early 2014.
More information on it can be found at The Cause of Progress's website.
To contact the reporter on this story: Soo Jin Kim at [email protected]