From Killing Fields to Sanctuary

Directed by immigrant filmmakers Ido Bartana and Nadim Badiee, From Killing Fields to Sanctuary is a new documentary produced by ARTogether that shows the resiliency of Cambodian-American community despite all the hardships they have faced in the past 40 years. Centering on the family of matriarch Kanley Souet-Pich, the story follows the detention of her husband by ICE and Kanley’s community organizing efforts to fight back. Following the story of this family, audiences learn about the Cambodian refugee experiences in the US, and the difficulties still endemic to this community as a result of systemic issues within the US refugee resettlement process.

The film documents Kanley’s growing community efforts to deliver food and PPE to the elders during the COVID-19 pandemic and teach them how to use Zoom for their weekly support groups. Described as the “unspoken hero” and the powerhouse of the household, the film traces the lives of Kanley’s daughters, centering on Moragaut and her involvement in the recent BLM and anti-ICE movements.

From Killing Fields to Sanctuary is a journey of two outsider filmmakers to first learn and then highlight the nuances and cultural richness of Cambodian culture and experience, promoting a human face for refugees that will counterbalance the deepening trend of xenophobia in our public discourse. This will be the third work by filmmakers Bartana and Badiee with Oakland’s Cambodian community, following a short 9-minute film A Painful Silence, as well as A Path to Healing, which highlighted the work of the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants, an organization that provides mental health services to the Cambodian community of Oakland.

The film is part of a larger exhibition about the Cambodian refugee experience. ARTogether will present a multimedia gallery exhibition exploring 15 different stories of the community members who did not appear in the documentary. In addition, we will develop a website for the project, which will feature interactive maps, timelines of resettlement, original interviews, and more.

This project is made possible by funding from California Humanities.