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San Joaquin International Film Festival headliner explores Cambodian struggle

Stockton-raised filmmaker used mother’s stories to inspire movie

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Posted: Saturday, December 28, 2013 12:00 am

For a world-class film festival, movie fans only have to drive to Stockton this January.

The seventh annual San Joaquin International Film Festival will be held on the first weekend of 2014. Stockton-raised filmmaker Kalyanee Mam will open the festival with her internationally-acclaimed and Sundance-winning film “A River Changes Course.”

“It is such a pleasure and honor to be back in Stockton to share a film about my home country with the people of my hometown,” Mam said. “I hope this film will resonate deeply in your heart as a story about the struggles of families not only in Cambodia, but also here in Stockton.”

Mam, 35, grew up in Stockton and graduated from Edison High School in 1995. As an award winning filmmaker, lawyer, and born storyteller, she is committed to combining her passion for art and advocacy to tell compelling and universal stories.

Born in Battambang, Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, she and her family fled the refugee camps at the Thai-Cambodian border and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1981. To this day, her mother recounts stories of their flight through jungles laden with landmines.

These stories and many others inspired Mam to return to her native homeland and to make films about atrocities occurring in Cambodia today.

Mam will be presented with the Festival’s Journey Award, honoring her unique connection to the San Joaquin community, her international filmmaking achievement and her ongoing humanitarian efforts in Cambodia and beyond. A graduate of Yale University and UCLA Law School, Mam has also worked as a legal consultant in Mozambique and Iraq.

“A River Changes Course” (“Kbang tuk tonle” in Khmer) tells the story of three families living in contemporary Cambodia as they face hard choices forced by rapid development and struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life as the modern world closes in around them.

From a remote northern jungle, down along the Tonle Sap, to the rice paddies in the country’s center and the pulsing heart of urban Phnom Penh, the radical changes in Cambodia today are transforming not only the country’s landscape, but also the dreams of its people.

The film has screened all over the world, at major institutions and festivals, including the Sydney International, the Jerusalem International and MoMA at New York City.

The film also won many awards, including the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature at the Atlanta Film Festival, Best Feature Film at the Green Film Festival in Seoul, South Korea, and both Best Director and Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Presented by the San Joaquin Film Society and founded by director Sophoan Sorn, the San Joaquin International Film Festival is the Valley’s benchmark annual celebration of contemporary world cinema.

Since the festival began in 2008, over 150 screenings, featuring 300-plus narrative features, documentaries and short films from master directors, auteurs and emerging filmmakers of 40-plus countries have been presented at venues across the northern Central Valley. The 2014 line-up is comprised of films from 20 nations celebrating the theme “We Are Connected.”

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