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A River Changes Course

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Twice a year in Cambodia, the Tonle Sap River changes course, while life for the Cambodian people continue to flow in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth and of creation and destruction. The director spent two years in her native homeland following three young Cambodians as they struggled to overcome the crushing effects of deforestation, overfishing, and overwhelming debt. A breathtaking and unprecedented journey from the remote, mountainous jungles and floating cities of the Cambodian countryside to the bustling garment factories of modern Phnom Penh, it traces a devastating and beautiful story of an ancient culture ravaged by globalization.


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Running Time: 83 min.
Subject(s): Ecology, Environment, Economy, Globalization, Human Rights, Immigration and Migration, Labor, Society, Youth
Language(s): Khmer
Subtitles: English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Kalyanee Mam
Production Company: Migrant Films

Festival & Awards

  • Sundance - 2013
    World Documentary Grand Jury Prize
  • Atlanta Film Festival - 2013
    Grand Jury Award
  • Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival - 2013
    Special Jury Prizes for Best Director and Best Cinematography
  • San Francisco International Film Festival - 2013
    Documentary Feature Golden Gate Award
  • Environmental Film Festival at Yale - 2013
    Grand Jury Prize - Best Feature
  • RiverRun Film Festival in North Carolina - 2013
    Human Rights Award
  • - 2013
    The Center For Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award
  • Vancouver International Film Festival - 2013
  • Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival - 2013
  • Bilbao International Film Festival - 2013
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - 2013
  • DokFest Munich - 2013
  • Jerusalem Film Festival - 2013
  • Mumbai Film Festival - 2013
  • Reykjavik International Film Festival - 2013

additional materials

  • Film Poster
  • Changing course: A new wave of acclaim for Cambodian documentaries, by Glenn Dunks
  • A RIVER CHANGES COURSE (review) by Apichai W. Shipper

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  • A River Changes Course

    Twice a year in Cambodia, the Tonle Sap River changes course, while life for the Cambodian people continue to flow in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth and of creation and destruction.

    Working in an intimate, verité style, filmmaker Kalyanee Mam, Cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, spent two years in her native homeland following three young Cambodians as they struggled to overcome the crushing effects of deforestation, overfishing, and overwhelming debt.

    Sari Math, a young Cham Muslim boy living in a floating fishing village on the Tonle Sap River, quits school at the age of fourteen to help his father fish and support his family full time. However due to large fishing concessions, large fish traps, and the rise of illegal fishing, the catch is diminishing and Sari and his family are struggling to catch even enough fish to survive. Once the fish disappears, so might also their unique way of life, shrouded by an Islamic religion, culture, and language that bind their lives together. As Sari stands on his boat facing the horizon, Sari wonders what direction the future will take him.

    In a small village outside the capital city of Phnom Penh, KHIEU MOK and her mother bring in their annual rice harvest. To help make ends meet, she and her family must borrow money to buy land and a water buffalo. To pay back their mounting debt, Khieu prepares to join the truckloads of young people who have already left the village to find work in garment factories in Phnom Penh.  But in the bustling city, Khieu soon realizes that her life and the lives of all factory girls are divided in half, between their duty to send money home to the village, and their duty to be there with their families. As she awaits the ferry that will bring her back home again, Khieu reflects on how she and her family will survive away from the city.

    In the remote and mountainous jungles of Northeast Cambodia, Sav Samourn and her family live in a thatched hut perched on a hill surrounded by cashew orchards, golden rice fields, and thick, dense forest. She belongs to one of 24 indigenous groups in Cambodia that depend on the land and forest for their food and livelihood.  All around her, she witnesses the encroachment of large companies and the slashing and clearing of forests. Sav Samourn discovers she is no longer afraid of wild animals and ghosts that once roamed the forests she calls home. Now, she is afraid of people.

    A breathtaking and unprecedented journey from the remote, mountainous jungles and floating cities of the Cambodian countryside to the bustling garment factories of modern Phnom Penh, A River Changes Course traces a devastating and beautiful story of an ancient culture ravaged by globalization.

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