Wars have been fought to end slavery, but the
cruel trade in humanity still flourishes internationally. Unfortunately, it is
hard to take macro military action when neighbors and family members are the
ones selling future generations into slavery. Guillaume Suon and co-writer-assistant director Phally Ngoeum examine human trafficking in Cambodia from three uncomfortably
intimate perspectives in The Storm Makers
(promo here), produced
and “presented” by Academy Award nominee Rithy Panh, which premieres this
coming Monday on PBS as part of the current season of POV.
The titular Storm Makers are the human
traffickers who barnstorm through provincial villages, luring the young and
unemployed into bondage with false promises. Their victims are predominantly
but not exclusively women, much like Aya. It was her own mother, perhaps
half-knowingly, who sold her into slavery. However, like a flesh-and-blood
ghost, Aya returned with stories of harrowing sexual abuse and a toddler, who
was the product of repeated rapes. It has not been a happy homecoming for
In some ways, Aya’s mother is not so different
from Ming Dy, who works as a “tout” recruiting girls from neighboring villages.
She also sold her own daughter, which has irrevocably poisoned her relationship
with her outraged Buddhist husband. Suon and Ngoeum follow the food chain up to
Pou Houy, an unrepentant Storm Maker and massively hypocritical Evangelical
Christian. His “employment agency” is a transparent front for trafficking, yet
he has a steady stream of walk-in victim-clients. Perhaps the most shocking
aspect of Suon’s film is just how many people knowingly take a very bad gamble,
simply because they see no other options.
Storm Makers is a quietly
observational talking-head-free-zone, but it captures enough evil in action to
make anyone’s blood run cold—provided they are of good conscience. Suon make it agonizingly clear just how corrosive a problem trafficking is in
the long term, even for a relatively “lucky” survivor like Aya. In fact, the
damage wrought to her psyche will knock you back on your heels.
Frankly, it is a little baffling how a film
produced and blessed by Panh (who helmed the Oscar nominated The Missing Picture) never secured a
high profile festival screening in New York, even though it snagged awards at
Full Frame and Busan. Regardless, hats off to POV for programming it. Yet, screenings and broadcasts of Storm Makers are even more desperately
needed in Cambodia, as well as Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan, where so many
trafficked Cambodians end up.
This might sound wildly eccentric, but perhaps
the Cambodian government’s time would be better spent cracking down on
traffickers like Pou Houy than censoring and campaigning against
soon-to-be-forgotten Hollywood movies like No Escape. Of course, there is no way the illicit trafficking trade could
thrive for so long, without plenty of high level looking the other way. While Storm Makers can be unsettling to watch,
it holds viewers riveted in a vice-like grip. Guaranteed to inspire outrage and
diminish your appraisal of human nature (so therefore highly recommended), The Storm Makers debuts on POV this coming Monday (8/31).
Labels: Cambodian Cinema, Documentary, Human Trafficking, PBS, POV, Rithy Pahn