A little girl is chopping sugar cane alone in a remote section of the Northern Cambodian Jungle. She has a small basket that she fills with some small sections of cane and climbs down a steep embankment where she finds her mother also working the land. The pair load up their haul and head back to their thatched hut. A father is perched at the front part of a wooden boat on the Tonle Sap River in Central Cambodia. His teenage son is driving and steering at the back. The pair stop to check and empty their fishing nets. They season and eat a few fish then bring home the rest to sell to market. In the rice fields outside of Phnom Pen a mother and eldest daughter work the field collecting and tying off bushels of rice. They lament that this years harvest is not good and their buffalos are eating all of the rice.
A River Changes Course follows three families from different parts of Cambodia. All are struggling to maintain a way of life that may not survive beyond the current generation. All seeing that the return on their labour is not producing as much as it did for the generation before. The other factor is the encroachment of modern society and corporations into their lands effecting the natural wildlife and habitat.
Director Kayanee Mam focuses on one member of each family to tell their story. Sav Samourn is the matriarch and main voice for her family. Her very young children have learned to do the work required to keep the family going. They work out in the fields, hunt for potatoes on their own, go to the watering hole to collect fresh water, are adept with large knives that are very sharp and take care of their infant siblings physical and educational needs.
Sari Math has dropped out of school to fish full time with is father. He has to help the family so his younger siblings can continue to obtain an education. However their catches continue to dwindle as there is less fish in the river. Some of the younger siblings now come out on the boat and start to miss school as they are also helping out with their younger brothers and sisters at home.
The rice fields are not producing a big yield because there has not been enough rain this season. The family has a large dept with the bank forcing Khieu Mok to go to the Phnom Penh to work in the factories. First she has to be trained to use a sewing machine then work for a wage of 60 USD a month with the potential of 100USD for overtime. The day starts with a pass card scan at the entrance of the factory, followed by a full day at a machine ending with a ringing bell and a pat down by security on exit. The workers head home to wash, eat, sleep and prepare for the next day at work.
One of the best exchanges captured in the film is director Mam's interview of 3 factory workers on Khieu Mok block as they do their evening washing. They speak about their villages, why they had to come to the city and their plans to go back home. Another is Sav Samours account of how she has been sick for the last 10 years. How her body aches, she hardly wants to eat and she is always dizzy. Her smallest child was sick for a while and her husband was so sick he almost died. She traces the cause to either their food as they used to only each what the family produced directly but now they buy food from others or more ominously the water.
A River Changes Course is a minimalist view of a vanishing way of life in Cambodia. The rural population that for generations lived off of the land, worked in the rice fields or fished are facing the reality of having to make drastic changes to survive. They are a segment of the population that are used to working for themselves and not for someone else. As Sav Samourn described it's hard to work for someone else, you're moving forward when you work for yourself but when you work for someone else you have nothing. A River Changes Course is a film that I can definitely recommend.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
A River Changes Course | Kalyanee Mam | Cambodia | 2013 | 83 Minutes.
Tags: Child Labour, Cambodian Jungle, Rice Fields, Fishing Hamlet, Deforestation, Development, Education, Sweatshop, Poverty, Survival.