“The Land of the Wandering Souls,” filmmaker Rithy Panh’s documentary about poverty-stricken laborers working to lay Cambodia’s first fiber-optic telecommunications cables, won the grand prize and $32,500 at a Canadian television festival Monday.
The film, made during the first three months of 1999, also earned the trophy for best social and political documentary at a Banff, Canada, film festival.
Jury president Michelle Lanctot told The Canadian Press that the documentary is a “beautifully understated work [that] describes without pathos the wretched destitution of the workers who, as they dig to feed their families, also dig through layers of Cambodia’s history.”
In one scene, an educated man attempts to explain to the laborers what the fiber optic cable does, telling them that it enables people to talk to each other all over the world.
“I can’t afford electricity,” one laborer gently replies. “Sometimes, I can’t even afford kerosene for my lamp.”
Rithy Panh is an internationally recognized filmmaker whose feature films “Rice People” and “One Evening After the War” earned praise at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, held annually in France. He fled to France in 1979 and received an education there. He now lives in both places, splitting his time between France and Cambodia.
A seven-member international jury awarded the prizes from a field of 86 nominees in 14 categories. British, US and Australian productions won most of the other awards.