Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A glimpse into the soul of a river



A glimpse into the soul of a river

In Koh Andaet, children get to school by boat. Photo supplied
In Koh Andaet, children get to school by boat. Photo supplied

A glimpse into the soul of a river

Soul of the Tatai River, a 28-minute documentary short on the lives of villagers in a remote village in Koh Kong, accessible only by boat, has yet to be screened in the Kingdom – but it made its debut at the Cambodia Town Film Festival in the United States last weekend. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon spoke with 31-year-old director Morn Vanntey about her experience shooting the film and her reflections on the finished picture.

How did you find this remote village, Koh Andaet, in Koh Kong?

Actually, the idea originally came from the executive producer [James Lee, president of US technology company Pioneer Circuits]. He liked that place and then he built a primary school for the people on that island. He came back and was willing to offer some money for anyone who would make a documentary for him. He was the person that [also] sponsored me to go to [South] Korea to study film.

But from the beginning, I don’t think he had an idea of what the story would be about; he just liked the nature over there and the people. He said that he fell in love with the Tatai River. I also didn’t know what the story was going to be about.

What was your experience shooting there for two months?

I went there directly after studying in Korea. Immediately, we went to Koh Kong. It was a big contrast after three years in Korea to go to Koh Kong, with no electricity, no internet, [and to be] in the middle of the river. To go anywhere, we had to go by boat. I was bitten by leeches, and many times we would see snakes. We also had to travel back and forth to the nearest main town to charge our camera batteries.

The natural beauty of Koh Kong is definitely highlighted in the documentary, but the film is also about these isolated children going to school. What can you tell us about that?

Three students in the village had to walk 30 minutes through the jungle before taking a boat to school, and they are now in Grade Six and they are the most outstanding students in the school . . . so the story is about them being [surrounded by] beautiful nature but not having any education [except for the school built by James Lee].

We see a lot about the daily life of the villagers in this film. Compared to your experience growing up in a rural village in Pursat province, what did you find most striking about Koh Kong?

This rural area in Koh Kong is more isolated than my hometown, where there is at least a road. In this village, you could only go by boat. The people there live completely with nature: they eat food from the trees, they catch fish from the river; they basically don’t need money to live. Also, everybody over there, they can sail a boat from a young age and they’re very good at swimming. The kids, they play with snakes and other wild animals, but they’re not scared. If I saw one snake I would run away, real quick, but them – they catch it and play with it.

There’s a five-star hotel resort that appears briefly in the documentary. What was that?

That’s the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. The villagers said they are forbidden to go near the hotel or fish near it because they claim they were told they make it ugly for the tourists. The villagers say that before the hotel was built, that area was really nice and there were many more animals swimming in the river, but now they all left.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Morn Vanntey was previously an intern at the Phnom Penh Post.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM imposes nationwide Covid restrictions, curfew over Delta scare

    Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28 instructed the municipal and provincial authorities nationwide to strictly enforce Covid-19 measures including curfew for two weeks from July 29 midnight through August 12 to stem the new coronavirus Delta variant. The instruction came shortly after he issued a directive

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Provinces on Thai borders put in lockdown amid Delta fears

    The government has decided to place several border provinces in lockdown for two weeks in a bid to prevent the new coronavirus Delta variant spreading further into community. According a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen late on July 28, the provinces include Koh Kong,

  • Delta spreading in Kingdom

    Cambodia has so far detected more than 200 cases of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant, with 109 found on July 31 and August 1. The Ministry of Health has expressed deep concerns that the variant may have already reached communities and be spreading as some of the cases

  • China denies Mekong hacking

    As the US and its allies joined hands last week to expose what they allege to be China’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities around the world, the attention also turned to Cambodia with the US Department of Justice claiming that four

  • US' Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arrive

    The first batch of 455,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine donated by the US touched down in Phnom Penh on the morning of July 30. They are part of the total 1,060,100 doses the US has pledged to provide to Cambodia through the World Health Organisation-led (