Cambodia has banned American director Bradley Cox’s doc “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” which had its European fest debut at IDFA and most recently played at the Cannes Independent Film Festival. The film investigates the 2004 assassination of that Southeast Asian country’s most prominent union leaders, Chea Vichea, who devoted his life to improve working conditions and wages for Cambodia’s 300,000 garment workers. The film was also named one of Amnesty International’s “Top Ten Movies That Matter.”
Trade unionists attempted to show “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” at the very location where the union leader was murdered last month in honor of International Labor Day, but Cambodian police raided the area and dismantled the screen. The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen declared the film an illegal import and said it would prevent any screening of the film “wherever they are held.” The film implicates the government and police officials in Vichea’s murder, which was caught on screen.
Cox (“Cambodia: Anatomy of an Election”) is currently receiving treatment for a gunshot wound in Bangkok where he has been covering the Thai military crackdown. Cox was on the scene with his camera just moments after the fatal shots to Vichea, and conducted his own investigation over the next five years. In the film, Cox reconstructs a police plot that allegedly framed two men who were sentenced to 20 years in prison each.
The Cambodian authorities maintain the right to seize any media “that is produced or imported illegally,” and, after the attempted screening of “Who Killed Chea Vichea?,” Cambodian police repeatedly tried to confiscate the film from union organizers. Groups in Cambodia typically screen imported films without approval from the government. French films screen at the capital’s Centre Culturel Francais, while Hollywood or American independent films play at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The authorities denied that their decision had any connection to politics, but there is no other politically charged film that has been banned in Cambodia since the 1980s.
Cambodia is a major recipient of foreign aid from Western countries including the United States, the UK, France and Australia. Its constitution was written with the help of foreign donors and guarantees “freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly.”
“This is what governments do when they don’t want their own people to know the facts and when they can’t afford to show weakness, even for an instant,” said Rich Garella, one of the film’s producers, and a former managing editor of The Cambodia Daily. “I would encourage Cambodian government officials to practice what they preach,” said Cox. The government’s action, he added, is “the very stuff of dictatorships.”
“Who Killed Chea Vichea?” is a co-production of Loud Mouth Films Limited and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and debuted last month at the Cannes Independent Film Festival.