Cambodia: Reporter's Log: Reporter Jenny Kleeman writes of her experiences making Cambodia: Selling the Killing Fields for Unreported World.
One of the most unsettling things about forced evictions is that it's impossible to know exactly when they are going to happen. For the 150,000 Cambodians currently under threat of displacement, that means living in a state of perpetual insecurity and fear. For a British crew hoping to document what a forced eviction looks like in Cambodia, it means my producer Andy Wells and I couldn't be sure if we'd be able to capture the key event in our film until it was happening right in front of us. After a few days of researching the story from our UK office, our contacts in Cambodia told us a large-scale eviction was imminent in the capital, Phnom Penh. The residents of Dey Krahorm had received their final eviction notice a month before, and the 120 families who remained on the site didn't seem to be reaching an agreement with the government over compensation for their land. The dispute had been going on for nearly four years. Even though it appeared to have taken a more serious turn in recent weeks, no one could tell us whether the residents would be forced from their land in a matter of days, weeks or even months. But we wanted to make sure we didn't land in Cambodia after it had taken place. We took a punt and decided to fly out as soon as our visas were ready – a week earlier than planned.
Once we'd touched down, it seemed our arrival was premature: the Dey Krahorm residents had managed to negotiate a stay of execution and the situation was quiet once again. In some ways, this was a relief for us: it meant we could get to know some of the key characters from Dey Krahorm - like Vichet Chan, the community representative - in relative calm. We got an insight into community life that we never would have captured had we arrived only a few days later. The news finally came that that the armed forces were poised to seize Dey Krahorm after we'd already done a full day's filming and were several hours away from the capital. It was as unexpected for us as it was for the residents. We managed to get back to Dey Krahom by 10pm. We had no idea what we were going to see that night, but once we'd spoken to Vichet and seen how distraught he was, it was clear that we could be about to witness the end of the community.
When the event you've come to film finally unfolds in front of you, you just keep filming. On the day that Dey Krahorm was raised to the ground, we worked for 30 hours straight. There was always another piece of the story to cover: from the construction of barricades before dawn and the brutality of the eviction itself to the impromptu press conference the government held on the rubble a few hours after it. By the time it was all over, we were truly exhausted. But for the people we'd been filming, it was only the beginning. They now faced the task of moving whatever they had managed to salvage to the relocation site, and trying to rebuild their lives away from the capital.