Director: Christopher Kelly
Cast: Luon Sovath, Tep Vanny
Watch A Cambodian Spring online in the UK: BFI Player+
How much would you sacrifice to fight for what you believe in? That’s the question behind A Cambodian Spring, a documentary that immerses us head-first, heart-second into another country’s volatile modern history. Filmed over six years, it unpacks the shaping and evolving Cambodia’s society.
It’s a snapshot of the collision between national identity and personal politics, and vice versa, one that director Christopher Kelly captures with a visceral, urgent pulse. We pick up in 2007, as a dispute rages over the land rights to Boeung Kak in the capital city of Phnom Penh, and you’ve rarely seen a protracted legal argument that’s so engaging, as Kelly dissects the issues at its heart into something accessible, interesting and emotionally involving – the kind of filmmaking that puts some of our modern news media outlets to shame.
The land in question is lined up for bulldozing by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has essentially sold it off to a development company, and with no plan to rehouse its residents, the demolition of many Cambodians’ houses spurs citizens into action. They’re met by brutal authority, and Kelly gives us a first-hand sense of that struggle to be heard by following three people: two mothers, one monk. The former form a striking contrast, as their paths diverge dramatically, and they are complimented highly effectively by the latter, whose outspoken ways spark inner torment and repercussions within his religion, while raising questions about the line between peaceful protests and the greater need for benevolence and justice.
It’s a complex, fiery melting pot of lives, corruption and individual conviction, captured on handheld camera with passion, understanding and an infectious sense of outrage – a raw portrait of progress and democracy fighting to find a way to a better future. It’s an impressive, hefty feat for someone’s first film – no wonder Christopher Kelly was nominated for Outstanding Debut at the 2019 BAFTAs.
A Cambridge Spring is available on BFI Player+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription. You can subscribe to BFI Player+ through the BFI website, or through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels.