A River Changes Course

View on The Global Environmental Justice site

This film was selected byJason A. Carbine, C. Milo Connick Chair of Religious Studies Associate Professor Department of Religious Studies, Whittier College

Why I selected this film
Relations between religion and environmental justice are not explicitly explored in this documentary, even though some participants are noticeably Muslim. However, I selected the documentary for the profoundness and humanity with which it looks at the everyday world of ordinary Cambodian people. Although affected by the pressures of economic development, globalization, and environmental change, they still manage to persevere and strive for a better future.

Teacher's guide 
Please see the guide for maps, background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities. 

"We've worked so hard on this land," says Sav Samourn, "and now they've come to destroy it all. Sooner or later it will all be gone."

In her directorial debut, award-winning filmmaker Kalyanee Mam travels to her native homeland to capture the stories of three young Cambodians struggling to maintain their traditional way of life while the modern world closes in around them.

Deep in the jungle, Sav Samourn struggles as large companies encroach and "progress" claims the life-giving forests. She discovers there's little room for wild animals, ghosts, and the home she has always known. In a fishing hamlet, Sari Math must quit school to help support his family. But as the fish catch dwindles, Sari and his family find their livelihood threatened. In a village, Khieu Mok must leave to seek work in a Phnom Penh factory to help pay her family's debts. But city life proves no better, and Khieu struggles between her need to send money home and her duty to be with her loved ones.

From Cambodia's forests to its rivers, from its idyllic rice fields to the capital's pulsing heart, forces of radical change are transforming the landscape of the country - and the dreams of its people.

Environmental Justice Focus
Set in the context of Cambodia’s changing economic and environmental landscapes, the documentary sheds light on basic and fundamental challenges people face in the effort to eat, make a living, and have a meaningful family life.

No reviews available.


Main credits

Mam, Kalyanee E. (film director)
Mam, Kalyanee E. (film producer)
Mam, Kalyanee E. (director of photography)
Leng, Ratanak (film producer)

Other credits

Edited by Chris Brown; cinematography by Kalyanee Mam; music, David Mendez.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Bioregions and Habitat
Climate Change
Environmental Science
Gender Studies
Human Rights
Media Studies
Political Science
Youth and Family


Colorflow, Documentation Center for Cambodia, The McArthur Foundation. SIDA, The Sleuk Rith Institute, Phnom Penh, Skywalker Sound, USAID, Fight for Areng Valley, Sav Samourn, China, Sari Math, Kalyanee Mam, Pulitzer Center, Tonle Sap, China, fishing, factory, labor, clothing, children, families, Sav Samourn, Khieu Mok, cassava plantation, Cambodia; "A River Changes Course"; Global Environmental Justice

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