Land rights are a super contentious issue in Cambodia, where the communist Khmer Rouge regime banned private property in the 1970s, destroying tonnes of land documents in the process.
As a result, at least two thirds of Cambodians, most of them poor, of course, don’t have proper deeds for the land they live on. Over the last ten years or so, thousands have been evicted and forcibly removed from their homes in various land-grabbing schemes, mostly perpetrated by their own government, referred to in his film as a “fake democracy.”
Film maker Chris Kelly follows three people over the course of 6 years to get a grip on their experiences. Toul Srey Pov and Tep Vanny are two young mothers who allowed their land on the Boeung Kak Lake to be measured by the government, supposedly to receive accurate land titles. Instead, the government leased their land to a private company, Shukaku, which “happens” to have ties to the Prime Minister. Shukaku is dumping sand into the lake, flooding the streets of Boeung Kak, forcing people from their homes. These women are too poor to abandon their homes. The compensation offered by Shukaku is laughable, insufficient to start over elsewhere. But those who stay risk their lives – already 3 have died by electrocution alone.
A Cambodian Spring shows how corruption and oppression still rule in Cambodia, but more than that, it highlights our own role in this: the failure of the World Bank to enforce its own resettlement policy, and the international complicity in allowing this to happen to regular people who believe they should be able to live in the homes they have purchased.
Although a bit overlong, A Cambodian Spring is an eye-opening and intimate portrait of citizens-turned-activists, and the cost, both personally and politically, that comes with fighting back.