Wednesday December 7th, 2005
[SHORT RUN] During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was the target of covert bombings that left
the nation devastated. Over 30 years later, countless landmines and unexploded ordnance still
contaminate the country. Consumed by overwhelming poverty in the long aftermath of the Khmer
Rouge genocide that ravaged Cambodia, some have taken up an unconventional entrepreneurial
venture: the disarming and dismantling of unexploded bombs, which are then sold for scrap
metal. It is a dangerous, even deadly vocation that requires many hours of work, for little reward
(less than $2 per bomb). Northwest filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald's documentary profiles several
Cambodian bomb hunters, while at the same time exploring the country's history and examining
the history of bombing within armed conflict. The result is a powerful documentary that offers,
among other things, a chilling look at what happens in the wake of America fighting for freedom.
Saturday's show will begin at 6:30 pm with live music and dance performances. DAVID
Where EAST meets the Northwest
BURIED PAST. Oregon independent filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald’s Bombhunters will
debut in the Pacific Northwest on December 10 and 11 at the Hollywood Theatre.
Pictured above is Phon Kaseka, waiting for his ride to arrive at a camp in Mondulkiri
province. He is a highly skilled Khmer/English interpreter in Cambodia. (Photo courtesy
From The Asian Reporter, V15, #49 (December 6, 2005), page 15.
The Cambodian Community of Oregon (CACO) wants its past, both good and bad, told.
As a community that empowers the present and the future, we believe this film will inspire
our children and our future generations to be compassionate, productive, and
responsible. The success of this film will help us heal the emotional wounds inflicted by
years of wars and the Khmer Rouge.
-- Kilong Ung, CACO President
Going for broke
Directed by Skye Fitzgerald
Our family fled bombs. Running left or right — indeed, running or not running made no
difference. Given the mad method of that era’s saturation bombing strategy, those deadly
messengers from unseen ferocious foreigners would surely find you. Only prayer worked.
Bombhunters turns this ugly old story backwards.
Cambodia’s rural poor are homing in on bombs.
Iron, brass, and steel casings are worth good money. So is TNT powder. Bombs and
bullets, rockets and mortar rounds, some of them inert fragments, many of them
unexploded reminders of Southeast Asia’s awful excesses 30 unforgettable years ago,
have become important items in local Cambodian cash economies. A miserable trade in
scrap metal now subsidizes struggling farm-worker families.
Last year, Oregon independent filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald was awarded a prestigious
Fulbright Scholar grant to document the human-rights issue of unexploded military
ordnance in Cambodia and to chronicle the deadly industriousness of rural bombhunters
(see "Local filmmaker receives Fulbright," by Edward J. Han, Asian Reporter, August 3,
2004). According to the Phnom Phenh Post in a January 14, 2005 article, ten perished
and thirty more were wounded by three decade-old bombs lying dormant but deadly in
Cambodian farmlands. Forgotten landmines killed another 27 people.
Mr. Fitzgerald’s latest film will screen on December 10 and 11, coincident with
International Human Rights Day and Cambodian American Heritage Month. The debut
will be at the Oregon Film & Video Foundation’s venue at the historic Hollywood
Theatre. For the occasion, one of Portland’s vigorous mutual assistance associations, the
Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (CACO), will provide traditional Khmer
music, dance, and food. CACO was recipient of a 2004 Asian Reporter Foundation
Exemplary Community Volunteer award.
According to CACO President Kilong Ung, "There were over seven million people living
in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge came to power. No more than half of that number
survived the Killing Fields. Of the survivors, only a relatively small number found better
parts of the world, such as the U.S."
About his participation in Mr. Fitzgerald’s film, Mr. Kilong said, "We are the
ambassadors of the less fortunate Cambodians who were left behind. This film is a very
powerful voice to remind the world that there is still much left to do in Cambodia."
Mr. Kilong appears in the documentary along with Oregon author and Khmer activist
Ronnie Yimsut, but director Skye Fitzgerald’s focus is on a handful of bombhunters out
of innumerable thousands of Cambodian poor looking to make a small pile of pennies
from digging up deadly munitions.
Among the treasure hunters featured in Mr. Fitzgerald’s film are: Yun Te, whose wife
nearly bursts from anxiety, worrying aloud how their two baby girls can survive if her
husband loses his arms, his legs, or his life; Salot Vuthee, whose husband lost all of those
one unlucky afternoon; and Pon Lok, a handless 13-year-old whose face, neck, and chest
are pocked with open and angry shrapnel wounds. To say this boy’s eyes are despair, is
understatement. He wishes he were dead, instead of maimed.
These honest and awful shots of simple folk doing their practical best for their poor
families are Mr. Fitzgerald’s best work. His extraordinary compassion plus his blue-
collar sensibilities make a compelling cinematic and moral statement.
Less irresistible are Bombhunter’s lingering historical montage moments — numbing
figures on what tonnage was dropped by whom on whom, when and where. They beg
argument; they provoke political debate. Perhaps an educator’s trade, but emotionally
distracting from his otherwise deeply felt work.
Enough talk. This film needs to be seen. For speaking up for Cambodia’s rural poor, for
not remaining silent about America’s past cruelty and current carelessness, our sincere
gratitude goes to Skye Fitzgerald and crew. CACO’s Ronnie Yimsut says it best: "Skye
and his film crew, in my eyes at least, are champions for those little people who lack
voice. It took courage, but more importantly, it took a strong passion to make this kind of
film to educate the public. For that, I am personally very grateful — speaking for myself
— if not for the Khmer people."
In observance of International Human Rights Day and Cambodian American Heritage
Month, traditional Khmer music, food, and Apsara classical dance will precede the
Northwest debut of Bombhunters.
For more information on Bombhunters, production efforts, still photos, and news articles,
visit <www.bombhunters.com>. For information about the work of the Cambodian-
America Community of Oregon, Khmer classes, events, and member profiles, visit
<www.cacoweb.org>. For information about the Hollywood Theatre, call (503) 281-4215
or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>.
» More From The Oregonian
beyond the multiplex
Friday, December 09, 2005
By MARC MOHAN
THE DAY (AND MUCH MORE) AFTER -- The terrible toll exacted by modern warfare, even after the fighting
has stopped, is explored in a pair of noteworthy films screening this week.
…Those costs are even more plainly stated in "Bombhunters," a documentary by
Portland filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald, which is having its world premiere on International
Human Rights Day at the Hollywood Theatre. This devastating film exposes the dangers
faced by impoverished Cambodians who dig up unexploded bombs to sell for scrap. The
way the destruction wrought by the bombs that did explode has forced these desperate
people to further endanger themselves with the duds is a tragic irony, and the numerous
interviews are incredibly sad. ("The Hero" screens at 7 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 17 in the
Whitsell Auditorium; "Bombhunters" screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at
the Hollywood Theatre.)