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Three Personal Stories Reflect the Dark Side of Globalization and Its Devastating Human Toll
Featuring brutally candid testimony, The Storm Makers is a chilling exposé of Cambodia’s human trafficking underworld and an eye-opening look at the complex cycle of poverty, despair and greed that fuels this brutal modern slave trade. More than half a million Cambodians work abroad and a staggering number of those have been sold as slaves. Most are young women, held prisoner and forced to work in horrific conditions, sometimes as prostitutes, in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.
The film tells its story from the perspectives of a former slave whose return home is greeted with bitterness and scorn by her mother; a successful trafficker — known in Cambodia as a “storm maker” for the havoc he and his cohorts wreak — who works with local recruiters to funnel a steady stream of poor and illiterate young people across borders; and a mother who has sold to the recruiter not only local girls, but also her own daughter.
Written and directed by French-Cambodian filmmaker Guillaume Suon, The Storm Makers has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on the POV (Point of View) series on PBS. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
At the age of 16, Aya was sold to work as a maid in Malaysia. She was exploited and beaten and eventually ran away, only to be captured and raped. When she returns home with an infant son, she is just as poor as when she left. Her mother greets her not with joy, but with anger that her daughter has come back with yet another mouth to feed instead of money. “I should have died over there,” says Aya in a singsong, childlike voice that masks the horrors she endured.
The young people from her remote village have migrated to work abroad. Empty houses are left behind. Cambodians call places like Aya’s village “ghost towns.” Suon and his assistant director, Phally Ngoeum, researched and filmed for three years, spending long periods in Cambodia’s villages and cities, and were able to gain the trust of both the victims and perpetrators of trafficking.
Pou Houy, 52, is a successful trafficker who runs a recruitment agency in Phnom Penh and claims to have sold more than 500 girls. Shockingly outspoken and shameless, he expresses no remorse and sees himself as a smart businessman, a good provider and even a good Christian. Although his company has been accused of trafficking by the local media, he has never been investigated by the police and continues to recruit young and poor Cambodians to work abroad.
Pou Houy’s enterprise relies on local recruiters, who bring him candidates from their rural communities. One of these is Ming Dy, who sold her own daughter and continues to supply Houy with new recruits from her village. She justifies her actions by claiming she has no other way to pay her bills.
In one wrenching scene, Ming Dy’s husband cannot bring himself to speak to his daughter when she calls from a new job abroad, where she earns a dollar a day. “I told my wife not to sell young people from the village,” he says. “Buddha condemns those who sell people like animals. I could have sold the bike and the oxen to pay back our debts. . . . But this money will bring us bad luck.” In another, a woman shows a picture of her 20-year-old daughter, who committed suicide in Cambodia after being trafficked. “She was so pretty,” says Ming Dy. The mother tearfully warns a new candidate for migration, “Don’t go abroad, girl!”
Pou Houy, the trafficker, supports not only his immediate family, but a dozen or so other relatives as well. His modern home, fancy car and concrete driveway contrast sharply with his relatives’ house right next door and its dirt road. But food is plentiful, and they are all better off than most people. “Does the trafficker feel regret?” asks Suon. “He was starving before, and made a promise to himself never to be poor again. From his point of view, in Cambodia you have only two choices: You are either a slave or a trafficker.”
How can a country descend into a state where trafficking family members and neighbors becomes acceptable? “Five or six years ago, during the financial crisis, a lot of factories shut down in Cambodia,” says Suon. “Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and had to find a way to earn money. Trafficking networks took power because they were able to send thousands and thousands of people abroad — for them it was a golden opportunity, because people were starving.”
The film explores not only the political and economic roots of human trafficking but also the moral choices being made by those on both sides of the equation. Asks Suon: “Would you sell your neighbor or even your own child to a trafficking network in order to save your family? Which one of your children would you sacrifice? What becomes of your humanity once you decide to exploit another human being for profit?
“Cambodian migrants have been reduced to the status of slaves. They are transparent, or worse, completely invisible. I want migrants like Aya to feel free in front of the camera, allowing words to serve as therapy and an escape from the past.”
The Storm Makers, an Official Selection of the 2015 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, won the Full Frame Inspiration Award at the 2015 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Windows on the World Prize for Best Feature Film at the 2015 Festival of African, Asian and Latin American Cinema and the Mecenat Award for Best Asian Documentary Film at the 2014 Busan International Film Festival.
About the Filmmaker:
Guillaume Suon, Director
Guillaume Suon is a French-Cambodian filmmaker whose films have focused on Cambodia’s history and current society. His films include The Last Refuge, Red Wedding, and About My Father. Trained by the Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Rithy Panh, Suon is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talents Campus and a fellow of the Sundance Institute and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam’s IDFAcademy.
The Storm Makers is a co-production of Bophana Production and Tipasa Production in association with ARTE France–La Lucarne and American Documentary | POV.
Director: Guillaume Suon
Producers: Rithy Panh, Julien Roumy
Executive Produces: Jean Tsien
Writers: Guillaume Suon, Phally Ngoeum
Director of Photography: Guillaume Suon
Assistant Director/Sound Recordist: Phally Ngoeum
Video Editor: Barbara Bossuet
Sound Mixer: Gabriel Mathé
Running Time: 56:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Chris White, Simon Kilmurry
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. The series airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on PBS from June to September, with primetime specials during the year. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 32 Emmy® Awards, 18 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, two IDA Awards for Best Continuing Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. More information is available at www.pbs.org/pov.
POV Community Engagement and Education (www.pbs.org/pov/engage)
POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 650 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
POV Digital (www.pbs.org/pov/)
Since 1994, POV Digital has driven new storytelling initiatives and interactive production for POV. The department created PBS’s first program website and its first web-based documentary (POV’s Borders) and has won major awards, including a Webby Award (and six nominations) and an Online News Association Award. POV Digital continues to explore the future of independent nonfiction media through its digital productions and the POV Hackathon lab, where media makers and technologists collaborate to reinvent storytelling forms. @povdocs on Twitter.
American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org/)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.