Under The Tamarind Tree

Along with the other horrors Pol Pot inflicted on a generation of Cambodians, the policy of forced marriage has left a lasting legacy to this day. Between 1970 to 1979 approximately 250,000 women were forced into marriage, in many cases to people they had never met before. Those who refused to get married were at risk of imprisonment or death. This short fictional film is inspired by personal accounts of victims of this bizarre policy that was supposedly designed to dramatically increase the population, in order to create more ‘revolutionaries’.
The Tree is a recurring reference in the world of the Khmer Rouge.
It is a place of congregation.
It is a place of forced marriage.
It is a place of death.
And so, it becomes the silent witness of this tragic tale of conflict between love and survival.
Just as love begins to bloom under the shade of a tamarind tree, childhood soul mates are torn apart when their village becomes overrun by a vicious militia unit of the totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime. A policy of forced marriages results in the soul mates being arbitrarily matched up with complete strangers. The young betrothed girl soon discovers that to refuse the partner chosen for her is to die. Under this new world order, an invisible chasm must be maintained between her and her love because something as trivial as a stray glance, or mere hearsay constitutes an ‘immoral’ offense against the sanctity of marriage and the regime, punishable by death. Enduring the spirit-crushing hard labour imposed and living amidst the ever-watchful eye of a ruthless senior Chairwoman, the young girl manages to find an outlet for her feelings. The tree becomes the soul mates’ go-between refuge under which secret symbols of affection are exchanged. Yet in this hostile environment, love has no place and hope is a perilous notion. Our heroine is confronted with a choice: to live miserably or to die fighting for an ideal.

  • Azi
  • Azi
  • Bunhom Chhorn
  • Arpan Chakravarti
  • Hing Panith
    Key Cast
  • Sokunthy Keo
    Key Cast
  • De Sheng Lim
    Director of Photography
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    25 minutes 23 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 26, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
    Central Khmer
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Azi

I am a first-time director. From 2015 to 2016, I interned at the Cambodian Courts under the auspice of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Tribunals (UNAKRT). During that period, outside of court work, I wrote, directed and funded this entrant short fictional film which depicts the story of two childhood sweethearts torn apart by the Khmer Rouge’s forced marriage policy in the 1970’s.

Prior to that I spent 6 months in Mcleod-Gange (Dharamsala, India) volunteering at a local NGO teaching English to Tibetan refugees from various walks of life- monks, small business owners, housewives etc. In between teaching and trekking the Himalayas, I had the opportunity to participate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy discourses held in English within the Dalai Lama’s temple compound.
The experience was presaged by a feature screenplay I had written and had been prospecting at the time; a clandestine thriller set in the context of tense relations between Tibet, China and the US throughout the 60’s and 70’s. My first draft was listed among the top 100 finalists of the international 2014 Emerging Screenwriters Screenplay Competition.

My former professional career as a public servant in the Australian Federal Government spans eight years during which time I managed social research projects on social inclusion and educational disadvantage, helped build an evidence based policy framework, and developed budgets for government project proposals across education sectors. From 2012 -2013 I chose to take one year of unpaid leave to join an international aid program (Australian Youth Ambassador for Development). I was posted to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic where I delivered practical workshops training Lao government staff in research methodologies, and monitoring and evaluation techniques with a particular focus on the education sector. The role was designed to build capacity of local staff to develop and pilot monitoring tools to provide a reliable measure of the country’s progress towards achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal education by 2020.
Incidentally one of the screenplays I have drafted looks at some of the more controversial aspects around the internationalization of education.

Other philanthropic stints include; monitoring wild white lions in remote South Africa to support ecological research which aims to argue the case for white lions being considered separately as an endangered subspecies; and community development volunteering in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro (teaching English and music to children).

Other notable film related ventures include co-writing a screenplay, which reached the semi-finals of Project Greenlight 2007 (Australia); a competition originally conceived by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. My Co-writers and I were flown to the studio in Sydney for the semi-finals show, which was aired on Australian cable television.

Prior to that, as part of a campaign to promote safe driving, my friends and I were awarded funding to make a short film based on our winning short screenplay. I served as production manager on the film, which was screened in Australian cinemas as a commercial prior to main feature screenings.

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Director Statement

If nothing else, I hope the above summary of my life's work conveys to the reader, some sense of merit in the social themes and ideas I attempt to express through screenplays and film. The stories I develop often arise from empathy gained through personal working experience. Thus the screenwriting process has been my tool for making sense of the world as I’ve experienced it. Moreover, it’s my way of paying homage to history and the people who have helped bring me to some deeper level of understanding.