A sister documentary to The Pipe, A Cambodian Spring delves into the corruption behind the development of the Boeung Kak Lake in Phomh Penh. While the residents welcomed some development in what was a poverty-stricken area, what they found was the lake was pumped right into their homes, flooding them and driving them out. They were offered a miniscule amount in compensation, which the residents wholly rejected. And yet their homes were pulled down, the residents escaping sometimes with barely moments to spare. But they refused to take it lying down…
Shot over six years, the story centres on three people: Prov and Vanny, two protestors from the area, and Buddhist monk Venerable Sovath, who experienced something similar years before when a company ‘developed’ his local village, some three hundred kilometres to the north. Venerable went about organising protestors, objecting to unfair trials in kangaroo courts, and suffered intimidation from other monks to return to his pagoda.
Meanwhile, down south, the movement gains international attention when the protestors bring their plight to the UN and the World Bank, forcing the latter to halt aid to Cambodia until the matter is cleared up. But trouble brews. There is a split in the movement with Prov accusing Vanny of forgetting the reason for the protests in the first place as she jets about the world making speeches, while Vanny accuses Prov of collaborating with the development company and the politicians. With all this going on, the opposition party leader Sam Rainsy returns from exile to run in the elections and adopts the Boeung Kak movement as his own.
What was that about the cynics? Well, you can tell which way this is going to go. Once elected Rainsy distances himself on his promises and the movement splits in two (literally throwing rocks at each over flooded land). The level of boldfaced corruption on show is astonishing. Prime Minister Hun Sen appoints Top Vong to Great Supreme Patriarch, the first appointment in two hundred years, and Vong’s first action? Crack down on Venerable’s protestations and social media posts, of course.
Distressing but wholly compelling, A Cambodian Spring will surprise even the hardened pessimist as to what people are prepared to do for power and money.