RPT Freelance Film Screening: A Cambodian Spring

“These images tell the truth.” Such words are usually associated with videojournalists and photojournalists. But in freelancer Chris Kelly’s film this statement is delivered by a Buddhist monk – the Venerable Luon Sovath – from Cambodia as he shares images of police intimidation and violence.

A Cambodian Spring

Photos: Sophie Baggott

The Venerable Luon Sovath identifies himself as a “human rights defender, activist, and protector of social justice”, which he combines with the teachings of Buddha.  Hailing from Siem Reap, he became a monk as a child to escape the bloodshed of the civil war that was consuming his family. He started recording events on his phone shortly before meeting Chris in 2009, when his brother and nephew were shot during a violent forced eviction in which many of the monk’s family and local community lost their land. Now dubbed the ‘multimedia monk’, he has been filming land confiscations, forced evictions, and arrests with his camera ever since.

On 13 June 2018, the Venerable joined freelance filmmaker Chris Kelly and the Rory Peck Trust at London’s Picturehouse Central for a special screening of Chris’s film A Cambodian Spring – a documentary that charts the stories of this remarkable monk and two young women protesters in Phnom Penh who are fighting for their homes and their rights amid police brutality, arrests, and demolitions.

Filmed over six years, Chris tracks developments from the early localised protests in 2009 through to Cambodia’s wider movement that marched against the establishment.

After the screening, RPT’s Head of Programmes, Mary O’Shea, talked to the film’s star and director about the challenges facing journalists and human rights defenders in Cambodia in the the run up to this year’s elections and chaired an audience Q&A.

RPT’s Kate Garner, who organised the event, commented, “This was a labour of love for Chris. Like many freelance filmmakers, he was doing this independently. The nine years that he spent producing, directing, editing and writing A Cambodian Spring cannot have been easy, but in doing so he brought to light a unique, important story. We wanted to help get the film out to audiences and raise awareness of the challenges facing the media in countries such as Cambodia. This was an enjoyable, enlightening evening – and we certainly aim to hold similar events in the future!”

Freelancer Chris Kelly said, “The film is deeply personal and as such a subjective portrait of my time in Cambodia. The film is ultimately about the people I knew in Cambodia, so it is very important to me, as these are people I spent a long time with, and I hope its subjects resonate with people all over the world.”

He added, “As a freelancer the challenges I faced were really about funding the film – we only had a small amount of development funding so everything was self-funded (mostly through work I did as a freelance video journalist for publications such as the Guardian). The positive aspect of freelancing is that we never had to answer to any broadcasters and we had the creative freedom to create the film exactly how we wanted to. I was responsible for my own health insurance as well as equipment insurance, but was lucky to get a bursary from RPT for a hostile environment training course. This was very useful for the medical training and also for giving me insights into how to safely navigate hostile and chaotic protest situations.”

Chris continued, “It was great to have the support of Rory Peck Trust and to be able to bring the film to their community. I hope that more events like this can be organised in the future.”

This week Dartmouth Films, distributors of A Cambodian Spring, announced that they will provide free tickets to any Khmer people living in the UK who wish to see the film. Contact them here to attend a screening.

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