A new project from an American director uses an imaginative plot to depict the problems of rural education in Cambodia
A US filmmaker is producing a short film highlighting problems in the Cambodian school system – featuring a young fisherman who turns to crime in order to pay for an education – with hopes to turn it into a full-length feature.
“The Cambodian Road is not [just] another film about the problems of developing nations,” stressed director David Brundige, who this month surpassed a fundraising target of $5,000 on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.
In addition to raising awareness about the challenges associated with rural education, he said, both the short and planned feature were meant to be entertaining.
The plot centres on 14-year-old named Chhen, a fisherman who wants to become a teacher like his uncle who was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.
His hope for an education lies in Siem Reap, home to the nearest high school, but Chhen’s dreams are dashed when his friendship with a Vietnamese girl is discovered by his parents.
In a rage, they cut him and Chhen is left to fend for himself.
Desperate for tuition money, he and a pair of like-minded rascals turn to conning tourists, detonating landmines and other nefarious activities.
Brundige – who has teamed up with Phnom Penh’s Hanuman Films (The Last Reel, Tomb Raider, Ruin) to produce the feature – was inspired after a trip to the picturesque Kompong Khleang, a seasonal floating village on the Tonle Sap.
“I knew I wanted to make a movie there. I called my tour guide and asked him what were the biggest social problems facing the village,” he said.
“He told me that the poorest kids couldn’t go to high school because it was too far away.”
A local producer named Sreylin Meas helped him cast his young actors by reaching out to schools and orphanages with a performing arts focus in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, finding three “talented actors with unique strength”.
To complete the project, Brundige partnered with World Assistance for Cambodia, an NGO that has built more than 550 schools in rural areas across the Kingdom, and the Ministry of Education, who helped scout the location for the construction of a rural school.
They chose Anlong Samnor, a village near where the film is set.
The plan is for a percentage of the film’s revenue to go towards the construction project.
“We hope that this film’s financing structure will serve as a model for other socially conscious films to do tangible good in the communities in which they film,” wrote Brundige on the project’s website.
Brundige is in the process of editing the short film as a pilot for the feature and to “cut [his] teeth shooting in Cambodia”.
The feature, which is to begin pre-production in September, is set to be finished by summer 2016. Construction of the school will start the following year.
In the meantime, Brundige is a busy man.
“Anytime you do a crowdfunding campaign, success means humility and gratitude in the face of all of those who supported you,” Brundige said.
“Especially if you’re not famous, your friends and family are the ones primarily supporting you, and all I feel is thankful – and a responsibility not to let them down.”