Cambodia Town Film Festival Documentary Explores Human Trafficking

In early 2009, Seak Smith heard a horrific story out of New Jersey, detailing the graphic gang rape of a seven-year-old girl by nine men, who had been sold the child by her very own sister.

Smith’s repulsion—like most—led her to not just bouts of crying and emotional overload, but a sense that she couldn’t “unhear these stories.” However, she was unable to know precisely what she should do.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 9.31.01 PMAnderson Cooper’s CNN Heroes soon provided her with alarming perspective when Cooper showcased Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who was born to a small tribal family in Mondulkiri. Mam’s family, entrenched in poverty and marginalization, resorted to a deeply dire and disturbing action for survival: selling the young girl into sexual slavery.

Mam’s eventual escape turned her into one of the world’s most renowned activists for helping women and children escape the world of human trafficking. Following the creation of her Cambodian non-governmental organization, AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire [Acting for Women in Distressing Situations]) in 1996, 2007 brought forth the Somaly Mam Foundation that was geared towards supporting anti-trafficking organizations as well providing shelter and space for victims and survivors.

Smith diligently dedicated herself to the foundation and now finds herself not only the L.A. Ambassador for the foundation, but proud to bring forth the portion of Half the Sky that is focused on Mam’s work to this weekend’s Cambodia Town Film Festival (CTFF).

“I had to seek permission to screen it for the film festival,” Smith said. “Not only because Somaly made me more proud to be a Cambodian, but because the film itself is so important.”

Half the Sky started off as a book between New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, mainly focusing on the oppression of women and the ability to transform it into opportunity. As the book gained popularity, PBS embarked on a “transmedia” project that took the book into multiple media forms, ranging from a Facebook-hosted game to a multiple part documentary series. The part of the series which focuses on Mam will be shown at the CTFF.

“It is a part of this larger discussion on how women and girls can not only seek help, but become educated and lift their lives up,” Smith said. “There will be a panel following the screening that will discuss how this is not just an issue in Cambodia but one that is worldwide.”

Joining Smith will be Joy Bitonio, L.A. Ambassador of the Half the Sky Movement; Serinda Swan, actress on USA Network’s Graceland; and AnnaLynne McCord of the CW’s 90210.

Half the Sky: Somaly Mam will screen on Sunday, September 15 at 6:30PM at the Art Theatre, located at 2025 E 4th Street.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 19 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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