Saturday, June 1, 2013

A River Changes Course (2013)

WHO: Kalyanee Mam directed this

WHAT: The winner of the San Francisco International Film Festival's Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Feature (I reported on all the festival's awards last month), this is a polished and interesting documentary about the ecological and economic pressures facing average families in Cambodia. When placed in comparison to the more probing and poetic (and frequently more harrowing) documentaries of the great filmmaker Rithy Panh (who just won a Cannes prize for his latest film The Missing Picture), it comes across as a somewhat lesser work, at least for someone like me who has visited the country and is generally familiar with its many problems and wonders. But Mam's take functions as an ideal "Cambodia 101" for people who haven't heard much about the small country beyond the famous horrors caused by American intervention in the region forty years ago.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:00 at the Goldman Theater in the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley, as part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival.

WHY: A River Changes Course is not strictly about environmental issues, but then again environmental issues and their potential solutions are impossible to extract from other human challenges. Thus it's a good choice for the 2nd annual San Francisco Green Film Festival, which opened the other night and runs through June 5th. The underutilized New People Cinema is the main festival venue, but there are screenings at various other Frisco Bay venues, including a free San Francisco Public Library screening of Plastic Paradise, which shows us images from Midway Atoll, a chain of islands affected tremendously by the accumulation of petroleum product waste in the North Pacific Gyre. 

Tonight's screening is one of two at the David Brower Center, a venue I've yet to investigate for myself. The other screening at the space is Tuesday's showing of Breathing Earth - Susumu Singu's Dream, the latest feature by director Thomas Riedelsheimer, who made two wonderful previous documentaries called Rivers and Tides and Touch the Sound, both about unique artists working with  materials in ways that set them apart from some of the ecologically-unsustainable practices used in many sectors of the art world. This portrait of a wind sculptor, and this afternoon's other Riedelsheimer screening Garden in the Sea, about an underwater installation in the Sea of Cortez, seem to fit this pattern as well.

More documentaries of interest to eco-minded cinephiles are to be found at the Rafael Film Center this week and at SF IndieFest's DocFest showcase opening the day after the SF Green Film Festival ends.

HOW: Digital screening of a natively-digital work.


  1. Thanks for the Rithy Panh shoutout; reminds me that I need to catch up on his work. I agree with your summary of A RIVER CHANGES COURSE; it's definitely fairly straightforward, although beautifully lensed.

  2. Brian: I agree that A River Changes Course isn't that probing, or at least more explicit about the issues, though there is some remarkable footage. In the Q & A at SFIFF, the director explained she received support from the Cambodian government so was working with limits._Perhaps Rithy Panh's situation is different? Also good of you to remind readers that the horrors of modern Cambodia, specifically the Khmer Rouge, didn't come out of nowhere but can be traced back to the destabilizing influence of the US.

  3. Rithy Panh's work, as I understand it, is funded primarily if not exclusively in Europe. I'm glad that local festivals have screened most of his docs since the one that first stunned me in 2001: The Land of Wandering Souls. I'd like to catch some of his acted features someday as well.