Saturday, June 8, 2013

SFF Review: A River Changes Course (Kalyanee Mam, 2013)

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Kalyanee Mam’s A River Changes Course is a beautifully shot slice of Cambodian life that examines the reliance of several families on traditional modes of living and the continuing impacts of depleting agricultural resources and industrial modernization.

A family of fishermen, reliant on their river catches, find themselves struggling to make ends meet with their increasingly meager returns. The oldest son in the family skips school to help his father on the river, but ends up leaving his village to work with a Chinese excavation company to help support the family. In a village near Phnom Penh, a mother in debt sends her eldest daughter to learn how to sew and work in the city sweatshops. We follow her there, and it is revealed that many of her co-workers have also taken on these jobs to support their country-dwelling farming families.

This raises some alarms about future generations of Cambodians, with many that are barely literate forced to drop out of school and attain specific skills to work from a young age. Their education levels are low, and in the case of the subjects in this documentary they have sacrificed their own futures for the sake of their younger siblings.

A River Changes Course is a powerful, attentive and intimate look at Cambodian country living with subjects whose livelihood and future is cause for concern. The admirable decisions made by these families in the face of great agricultural change ensures the state of living in this part of the world draws attention and will resonate with viewers.

My Rating: ★★

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