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Elephant conservation and indigenous experiences in Cambodia: Shaping environmental awareness through participatory filmmaking with young people


The project deepens and extends the impact of our original research "Participatory Filmmaking and the Anlong Veng Peace Tours", which was a 'proof of concept' pilot developed and delivered through the Cambodia strand of the AHRC Network Plus grant "Changing the Story: Building Inclusive Societies with, and for, Young People in 5 Post-Conflict Countries".

This project applies the successful methods developed during the original project in collaboration with two new Cambodian partners, the Bophana Audio Visual Center (Bophana) and Elephant Livelihood Initiative (ELIE), to address urgent challenges for environmental conservation and indigenous communities in Cambodia. In the original research, we found that participatory filmmaking could empower young Cambodians as agents and beneficiaries of change by encouraging ownership of Cambodia's histories of war and atrocity, and building dialogue and empathy across divided communities. In particular, we saw young people using their own films as grassroots advocacy tools as they disseminated them across and within their own networks. While the original research focused on issues of post-conflict reconciliation for younger generations in Cambodia, our findings highlighted important outstanding relationships concerning legacies of conflict, transitions from war to peace, and harms inflicted on the environment, particularly in terms of deforestation and wildlife loss. Thus, the primary aims of this follow on funding project was to deploy our successful participatory filmmaking methodology to encourage young people to take ownership and actively engage with conservation issues, and to amplify awareness of environmental challenges across communities.

Cambodia's forty years of conflict have left a legacy of environmental harms, including wildlife reduction, deforestation and the loss of cultural heritage informing locally grounded approaches to forest management. Cambodia's transition to peace and subsequent development has witnessed unsustainable environmental exploitation and widespread environmental harms. Deforestation during and after conflict has caused further loss of rare and endangered wildlife and wild elephant numbers, in particular, have sharply declined as a consequence of the loss of their natural habitats. Indigenous communities, who have close cultural and spiritual relationships to elephants, suffer particularly as a marginalised group within wider Cambodian society and subject to unsustainable development pressures affecting the forests that they reside in. Conservation practice around elephant habitats, and issues facing indigenous communities who live alongside elephants, therefore offers a key site through which to encourage active engagement with wider environmental and development challenges in Cambodia.

The project has been designed in dialogue with the Bophana Center and ELIE to complement each partner's strategic objectives. The Bophana Center is committed to training a new generation of young Cambodian filmmakers, while ELIE's mission is to conserve the natural habitats of elephants while providing support for indigenous communities around them. Through the recruitment of 12 young people, who will be trained in co-productive and participatory filmmaking methods, the project delivered 3 films that can be used as advocacy tools, highlighting exemplary conservation practice, environmental challenges, and issues facing marginalised indigenous communities through field visits to ELIE sites. These films will be constitute the centrepiece of an impact and dissemination strategy that will raise awareness of environmental challenges through screenings in indigenous communities, screenings facing conservation practitioners, submission for international film festivals, and a social media training program for the young filmmakers to disseminate their films as advocacy tools.

Watch the films here

Dull Trail

Blind in one eye and traumatized from years of war and American bombs, Mae Neng the elephant learns to accept the love of her kind caretaker Da Chroed in Mondulkiri province. Produced by Ricky David CHOEY, Mono PEOU, Raksa KHON.

My Home

Chheol Thouk never wanted to be anything else but a mahout and he roams the forest tending to his elephants. But the natural habitat in Mondulkiri province shrinking due to deforestation -- threatening the elephants, their ecosystem and Chheol's way of life. Produced by Sopheana CHOUN, Choulay MECH, Sopheak YAM, Sochetra MEAN, Pisen CHHEAN.


As a matriarch in Mondulkiri province, Preng Chanthy strives to maintain the traditions of her indigenous community - including caring for the local elephants and brewing rice wine to offer to spirits - while passing her wisdom on to the next generation. Produced by Sonan SOUS, Sreytoch SAT, Theang PAOV.


Environmental activism and Indigenous issues in Cambodia (English)

Read the final project report, 'Environmental activism and Indigenous issues in Cambodia: The role of film-based advocacy with and for young people.' The report reflects on and distils key lessons from the project.

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Project Location

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