International Competition

The Land of the Wandering Souls

La terre des âmes errantes
- FRANCE / 2000 / Cambodian / Color / Video / 100 min

Director: Rithy Panh
Photography: Prom Mesa
Editing: Marie-Christine Rougerie, Isabelle Roudy
Sound: Sear Vissal, Roeun Narith
Music: Marc Marder
Production Company: INA
Co-Production Company: La Sept ARTE
World Sales: INA
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In war-ruined Cambodia a fiber-optic cable was being laid across the country. Though this created work for many Cambodians, they would never receive benefit from the cable themselves. As construction advanced across Asia, many in its path including farmers who have lost their land, demobilized soldiers, and poor families were forced to lead a nomadic lifestyle.

[Director’s Statement] In 1999, the worksite to lay the first optical fiber cable advanced from one side of Cambodia to the other. This “information superhighway,” intended to enable integration into the global economy, is to connect up with the link which joins Europe along the Silk Road to China. Thinking about the laying of this optical fiber cable, I cannot prevent an image from entering my mind: on the one hand, the peasants are still using wooden ploughs in their fields as they did centuries ago, while on the other hand they watch the technicians and workers reeling out the cable along which impressive quantities of data will be carried. How is this technology in fact crossing my country? What are the reactions of the Cambodians to the laying of the optical cable? In what condition does Cambodia really find itself today? Culturally and socially, what remains of this country after the years of war? What are the hopes for the future?

As the worksite progresses the camps move on, together with those who continue to follow the path of the cable. But it marks the end of the work for the peasants, who will remain in their villages, and look on nostalgically as the “optical cable caravan” moves on, while hoping that life will be better for their children. Although Cambodia is one of the countries in which human dignity has suffered most from political violence and warfare, it is also true that it has managed to survive these tragedies because of the strength and hopes of the people of Cambodia. With my Cambodian film crew, I have followed the advance of the worksite, focusing my attention on some central figures who symbolize the difficulties and contradictions the country must overcome, in its effort to survive and its determination to renew our ancestral culture, which has also been devastated by the years of war.


- Rithy Panh

Born in Phnom Penh. Graduated from France’s National Film Institute (IDHEC). Has made numerous award-winning theatrical and documentary features. Debut dramatic feature Rice People (1993-4) won the Silver Screen Award for best actress at the Singapore International Film Festival. One Fine Evening after the War (1997) was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 1998. Documentaries include Site II (1989), winner of the Grand Prize at the Amiens International Film Festival and television documentary Bophana, a Cambodian Tragedy (1996), which moved juries at festivals from Marseille and Monte-Carlo to Sendai and Montreal.

• International Competition | Angelos’ Film | A2 | Buenaventura Durruti, Anarchist | Crazy | Days in Those Mountains | La Devinière | Gaea Girls | Grandma’s Hairpin | In Vanda’s Room | The Land of the Wandering Souls | Mysterious Object at Noon | Paragraph 175 | Private Chronicles. Monologue | 6 Easy Pieces | Southern Comfort • Jurors | Hartmut Bitomsky | Bernard Eisenschitz | Ann Hui | Kuroki Kazuo | Ivars Seleckis