01/18/2013 12:23 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Cambodia Documentary Premiering at Sundance Puts Human Face on Globalization Quagmire

The human face of globalization will not be found in protests or rallies. It is in the eyes of displaced women and men leaving centuries old agrarian systems. It is the painful, disempowering march from a sustaining, ecologically-balanced family-focused life of hard food-producing work to a dollar-obsessed global system of harder work and longer hours.

Kalyanee Mam's bold new documentary, A River Changes Course, shot in a breathtakingly beautiful, cinema-verite style, breaks new ground in presenting the lives of Cambodians marching from their ancient culture into a globalized economy.

Mam spent many months deep in the Cambodian countryside, and did her own camera work for this deeply authentic, and heart-opening work. The stunning documentary is the first by a Cambodian woman to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Mam's important documentary does not focus on political or economic ideals. It is about our shared humanity. "For me, it's always been a personal journey. Only in exposing the beauty of the country can we preserve the beauty of it. Peoples' lives are valuable and precious, and so is the environment," Mam says. "If we act with clear intention, we can come up with solutions that take care of people, the environment, and the country."

In the spirit of the evolving eco-feminist movement, which calls upon women to "lead an ecological revolution in order to save the planet," the film sensitively explores the challenges -- and the environmental wisdom -- of two women bread-winners as they fight an uphill struggle to preserve their farm, forest and livelihoods, as well a fishing family challenged by diminishing yields.

Agriculture currently employs nearly three quarters of Cambodia's fast-growing population of about 14 million. The families lovingly profiled in A River Changes Course are finding their lives devastated by the impact of unbridled, under-regulated globalization as their nation -- and the small class of Cambodian plutocrats whose extreme wealth is based upon collaboration with multinational corporations -- marches to the tune of "progress."

The economic pressures that transform these agrarian Cambodian families are rooted in the ecological manifestations of greed-focused, unchecked globalization: drought from climate change, deforestation in the land grab for diminishing natural resources, relentless debt, overfishing, and the unchecked power of multinational agribusiness to win its way in one developing economy after another.

Director/cinematographer Kalyanee Mam, cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, does not believe the answer to her native country's problems lie in going back to the good old days. After all, this is the nation in which two million people died during Pol Pots despotic, insanity-fueled "agrarian" revolution. Yale and UCLA Law-educated, Mam spent the first few years of her life in a Khmer Rouge work camp before she and her family escaped to the United States through Thailand.

"Going back is not the answer -- change is inevitable," Mam observed. "But the question is: what kind of change do we make? How do we go about that change, and what is its impact on people's lives and the environment? People's lives are being destroyed for the greater good of the country and economy regardless of the impact on people. If we are not aware of how the change impacts peoples' lives, we will never come to a solution."

Politics and economics, in Mam's view, should serve the greater good. "We are one human family," she notes. "What do we, the people, want our governments to do? It is important that we take responsibility for the changes that are happening in this world."