“We’ve worked so hard on this land and now they’ve come to destroy it all,” remarks Sav Samourn. “Sooner or later it will all be gone.”
Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at Sundance, A River Changes Course tells the story of three families living in contemporary Cambodia as they face hard choices forced by rapid development and struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life as the modern world closes in around them.
The great Tonle Sap River in Central Cambodia is home to a diversity of fish and wildlife. And the floating village on the river is home for Sari and his family, who depend on fishing for a living. But life on the river has changed rapidly due to large fishing concessions, large fish traps, and the rise of illegal fishing. 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 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. And 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.
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. 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.