Theater arts professor creates documentary on Cambodian home destruction

Theater arts professor creates documentary on Cambodian home destruction

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Bulldozers tear into the weak wooden walls of Cambodian homes, ripping free bedroom posters and living room adornments.  Homeowners look on in terror as the machines demolish their homes and leave freshly set tables to go stale without the protection of shingled roofs or cement exteriors.  Onlookers fall to the ground, sobbing, unable to do more than throw stones at the metal beasts currently signing away their eviction.

These events and more are detailed in the documentary film of Boise State theater arts professor, Phil Atlakson, and his son, Garret Atlakson.  The twenty-minute film has already won several awards, including Grand Prize at the Poverty Cure Film Festival in New York.  This documentary, titled “Eviction,” is but a portion of a 90-minute production in the making.

“Eviction” was recently invited to show at the Cannes Film Festival in France as a portion of the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase.

“Cannes of course is the most prestigious film festival in the world, so it’s a real honor just to attend,” Phil Atlakson said.

The documentary highlights the vicious actions of the Shukaku Company, who has decided to uproot and destroy the homes built and fostered within the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood without forewarning or allowance for preparation.  Cambodian residents are forced to either uproot their families and find a new place to live or stand their ground, waiting out the inevitable destruction of
their home.

Some Cambodians have decided that they’ve had enough of the destruction and are standing up against the hired police forces that facilitate the destruction.  The Beoung  Kak 13, a group of 13 women that stand up against the police forces regularly, is led by Nget Khun, otherwise known throughout the film and by her Cambodian friends as “Mommy.”

Despite their attempts at reclaiming and defending their homes, the people of the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood are consistently bombarded by brutality within their revolts and uprisings.  Hired police forces beat the opposed into submission, lashing out with metal rods on older women, pregnant women, and defenseless men curled up on the ground.

“I’m very happy to see him fall down,” said Khun while watching a video of one of the company officials tripping. “But I wish he would just die so I wouldn’t have to see him again.”

Those whose homes have been destroyed are sent to live under tarps along the neighborhood outskirts without needed supplies or clean water sources.  Company officials offer homeowners compensation for their destroyed homes, but the funds barely cover the cost of plot of land, leaving the cost of actually building a home to the Cambodians devoid of any personal belongings or shelter.

These Cambodians are still fighting to defend their homes or reclaim what has been ripped from their lives.  The Beoung Kak 13 were recently arrested for two and a half years after lashing out against the company forces, but were released after heavy input from the international community.

Still, in her old age, Khun fights the hired police forces, throwing their metal gates across the cement, standing up and yelling out for increased opposition from her Cambodian community, and when she is too tired to offer further forms of opposition, throwing salt on hired police forces.

Atlakson and his son originally came upon the idea for this film while working in Cambodia on another, separate film project.  While working with two Cambodian friends on the original project, Atlakson was informed of the tragedies arising among the people of the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood, including a few filmed scenes of the trials homeowners were facing.

“Once we saw the footage our friends had shot, it was a no-brainer, THAT was the documentary we needed to be shooting,” he said.

“We have lived through a lot together in the past few years, many setbacks and heartbreaking experiences, imprisonment, beatings, shootings, etc.,” explained Atlakson, referring to his relationship with the women of the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood. “Despite their hardship, these women remain warm, generous, open-hearted and joyful. They are my heroes.”

Atlakson thinks gathering student involvement and aide with and for the people of the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood is a
“terrific idea.”

But, he said he wasn’t sure where to start in going about gathering such student backing.  He is interested in finding a student or full-student organization to take it on as a special
project.

“So, if anyone is willing to help shoulder the responsibility that would be great. It could mean organizing a fundraising campaign, or perhaps going to Cambodia to help do the actual construction,” Atlakson said.

Remaining in Cambodia to continue filming and documenting the continuous trials of the people of the Beoung Kak Lake neighborhood, Atlakson is currently working on expanding his documentary into a larger film to fully recount and illustrate the events transpiring in the country.

Atlakson hopes the viewers of his film walk away with a renewed drive and sense of things worth
dying for.

“If a 72-year-old woman can take on armed government forces, suffer imprisonment, being shot, beaten, tased and ridiculed, to provide a future for her granddaughter,” he said. “What excuse do any of us have for opting for anything less?”