Verge Reviews: A Cambodian Spring

Documentary filmmaking is one of the many unique formats filmmaking can take. It’s unique in its ability to educate or inform an audience of something they may have not ever known about otherwise. That’s one of the thoughts that came to mind when I began watching this documentary.

‘A Cambodian Spring is an intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia. Shot over 6 years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the ‘Cambodian Spring’ and the tragic events that followed. This film is about the complexities – both political and personal, of fighting for what you believe in.’

This is an issue that I can honestly say I have never given any thought about. That might make me a terrible person, but it granted me the ability to have a very open mind while viewing this documentary. Sometimes you do find yourself watching a documentary on a topic you never thought you’d be interested in and that can be a very insightful and interesting experience. This is how I felt watching A Cambodian Spring, it captivated me in ways I couldn’t of imagined and at times I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.

Injustice against the Cambodian people is the centre focus of this documentary. In particular, it is an ‘intimate portrait of three Cambodian’s involved in forced evictions (The Venerable Luon Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tep Vanny). We meet the characters at the very beginning of their journey, unsure of themselves and unaware of where they will end up after years of protests against their government. What began as a growing wave of land rights protests led by our characters, turned into an attempt to overthrow the dictatorial government of Hun Sen, which has been in power for more than thirty years.’

June 27, 2012 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The 13 women imprisoned on the 24th of May sit in the Appeal Court after 1 month and 3 days in jail, awaiting the final verdict regarding their release. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom


Toul Srev Pov is a Cambodian housing rights activist and mother of three. She’s suffered a life of poverty but has never let it stop her from working hard and trying to provide a better life for her children. The passion and fire she sparks as an activist is inspiring. When her best friend Tep Vanny is put forward as the leader you’ll witness a deterioration. An inner conflict that she can’t beat.

As for Tep Vanny, she is dubbed a ‘professional protestor’ by the Cambodian government. She emerged as a leader during parts of the protests mostly because she was the only member of their group able to speak English. Vanny’s trajectory is on the rise throughout the film and we witness the effects this has on Toul personally. These two are a clear indication that conflict can take many forms, even when fighting for the same cause.

The third and final focus is on The Venerable Luon Sovath who is dubbed the multi-media monk, because of his technical proficiency in film-making and editing, and because of his innumerable gadgets, Venerable Sovath is trying to combine the teachings of Buddha with his new role as a Human Rights Defender, creating documentaries that highlight human rights abuses across Cambodia. One of the most interesting parts of this documentary is this monk. Reminding us as viewers of the true power of social media and filmmaking, that it can be used to highlight the true injustices that exist in this world. He convinces the people to try fight for the right cause even if it means throwing himself into the struggle.

This film captures the ongoing struggle with such heart and soul and doesn’t shy away from portraying the harsh reality of the situation. I witnessed homes being destroyed right in front of families. It was almost unbelievable, to the point where I would have to remind myself that it was real. Brutality at its finest was a phrase that came to mind a lot during the film.

By the end of the documentary, I was left stunned by what I had seen. There was a lot packed into two hours and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was left questioning the world and I was left knowing that I will never be able to truly imagine what they had been through. The way the documentary had awakened me to this issue proves the power it holds. I urge you to watch this. It will open your eyes to an injustice that exists and remind you that we can not let these type of acts continue. We must do all we can, in the hope that one day our world will be at peace.