“The day after my birthday, I boarded the plane at SFO and embarked on a new journey, returning to my homeland of Cambodia. As the plane hovered over Phnom Penh, I was reminded of the very first time, nearly seventeen years ago, I flew above the glistening rice paddies and towering palm trees. I was 21 years old at the time with no memory of our country. My family and I fled Cambodia when I was only two years old. Yet, butterflies fluttered above the pit of my stomach and I felt like I was coming home. That day, I knew I wanted to learn more about my country. Today, butterflies still intact, I want to help protect it. We recorded this video soon after my film crew and I left Areng Valley for the first time last year and soon after I made a promise to Reem Sav See that I would do everything in my power to protect her land and the land of our ancestors. As I begin another journey in Cambodia, I remind myself of my promise, not only to Reem Sav See but to myself – to love, to fight, and to protect the nature that is our home”. – Kalyanee Mam (Jan 5th, 2015)
In southwest Cambodia, at the foot of the Cardamom Mountains, is a single dirt road that meanders through the heart of the pristine Areng valley. Ten miles down this road, villagers have set up an encampment to stop a hydroelectric dam project that they fear will destroy their forests, livelihood and heritage.
The Chong people, who are considered Khmer Daem (or original Khmers), have lived in this valley for over 600 years. They grow rice, forage for roots and mushrooms, and fish in the streams and river. In March, a group of young monks traveled over 150 miles from Phnom Penh, the capital, to help them in their campaign to protect the forest, which they consider sacred.
The Cambodian government intends to build a network of 17 dams, hoping that they will generate enough electricity to meet domestic demand, reduce energy costs and export surplus energy abroad. This goal of transforming Cambodia into the power plant of Southeast Asia may promise economic gain, but as this Op-Doc video shows, it also entails significant costs.
The Areng dam would be built by Sinohydro, China’s largest hydropower company. It would flood at least 26,000 acres – displacing over 1,500 people (whom the government plans to relocate to an undetermined area). The area is recognized as being rich in biodiversity; the dam would threaten the habitats of 31 endangered animals.
Kalyanee Mam is a Cambodian-American filmmaker who lives in Sonoma County, Calif. Her debut feature-length documentary, “A River Changes Course,” won the grand jury prize for world cinema documentary at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.