Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Storm Makers, On POV, Presented by Rithy Panh

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 either woman.

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).