‘Speak Out, Sisters’ focuses attention on sexual and gender-based violence in week-long series at Meta House
Pen Sokchan was 16 years old in 1977 when she was separated by the Khmer Rouge from her family in Pursart province and forced to marry a man she had never met. Almost immediately, she encountered severe sexual abuse and violence, revolting memories of which continue to haunt her more than four decades later.
Sokchan’s story became the subject of “Red Wedding,” a 2012 documentary by Lida Chan and Guillaume Suon. The movie was presented to a new generation of film aficionados on Tuesday’s opening night of the “Speak Out, Sisters” film festival in Phnom Penh. And Sokchan herself was there with Chan.
“Red Wedding” focuses on the trauma of forced weddings, an estimated 250,000 of which occurred during the Khmer Rouge period of Cambodian history. Chan and Suon began production in 2011, when Sokchan filed a complaint with the war crimes tribunal. It was regarded as groundbreaking work: Cambodian women had only rarely before ventured into filmmaking. But with support from the Sundance Institute, the movie went on to win acclaim at international film festivals.
“Sexual and gender-based violence was a daily reality for most Cambodian women during the Pol Pot genocide,” noted Nico Mesterharm, a German-born documentary filmmaker and journalist who, with his filmmaker wife Sao Sopheak, heads the Cambodian-German Cultural Association at Meta House. “Out of shame or fear of being stigmatized, survivors did not talk about it for 44 years.”
To break the silence, he said, Meta House invited more than two dozen Cambodian women filmmakers to present at “Speak Out, Sisters.” The festival will continue through Sunday with feature dramas at 7pm tonight and Friday, and weekend shorts by student filmmakers at 4 and 7pm Saturday and Sunday. Question-and-answer sessions will follow each screening. Films are in Khmer with English subtitles. Admission is free.
In cooperation with the Women’s Media Centre and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, a multimedia campaign will extend through 2024. That will include interactive theatre, exhibitions and dialogues in schools, video productions, TV broadcasts and social media outreach.
Even in modern Cambodia, Mesterharm said, 25 percent of women continue to face abuse. “We hope our project will alter community perceptions and make the broader public more aware that women’s priorities are central to peace,” he said.
Learn more at meta-house.com or facebook.com/speakoutsisterspage