(bangkokpost 29.04.2009)Some stories are long, or at least longer than the story-teller expects. When New Zealand film-maker Stanley Harper set out to make a documentary at a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border in the late 1980s, he didn’t realise that the story of one woman he encountered there would take him almost 20 years to capture and recount.
Harper’s documentary, Cambodia Dreams, will screen at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club tomorrow, followed by a talk by the director.
The movie centres on Yan Chheing, a displaced Cambodian grandmother who fled starvation to the UN camps on the Thai side after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. She thought she’d stay there “only a few months”, but ended up stuck in a stateless void much longer than she’d imagined.
Meanwhile, the film tells the parallel story of Yan’s daughter, Tha, who grew up in a farming village in Battambang province with her adopted family without ever seeing her biological mother. While Yan, through a series of interviews that comprise much of Cambodia Dreams’ narrative, longs for the day she can return home, where she believes everything is better than in the camp, her daughter relates the reality of prolonged hardship that most Cambodians have experienced through the past two decades. Finally, the mother-daughter reunion represents the hope that accompanies the effort to rebuild the war-ravaged nation.
In the late 1980s, Harper came to the Thai-Cambodian border to shoot a documentary for the BBC. There he met Yan, and after completing the assignment for the TV station he decided to make another documentary based on her life story. He started filming in 1991, then he followed Yan, in the Thai camp, and her daughter, in her village in Cambodia, until 2002. The sense of passing time adds certain poignancy to the story, but in the end, the belief in rebirth and a new generation shines a light through a dark period that has finally come to a close.