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Elephant conservation and indigenous experiences in Cambodia

A participatory filmmaking programme with Cambodian young people to raise awareness about environmental and development challenges facing indigenous groups.

Project status




This AHRC-GCRF funded project (2020-21) led by Dr Pete Manning (Principal Investigator) developed a participatory filmmaking programme with and for young people in Cambodia to raise awareness about urgent environmental and development challenges facing the country and the ways that these impact indigenous groups particularly. Participatory filmmaking gives creative control of the filmmaking process to the groups communities it works with. It is therefore a powerful advocacy tool as it encourages a sense of ownership over the issues to which it is addressed.


Cambodia's forty years of conflict have left a legacy of environmental harms, including wildlife reduction, deforestation and the loss of cultural heritage which have all informed locally grounded approaches to forest management. Cambodia’s transition to peace has also witnessed unsustainable environmental exploitation and widespread environmental harms. Deforestation during and after the war has caused loss of rare and endangered wildlife and in particular wild elephant numbers 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 are 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, is an important avenue through which to encourage active youth engagement with wider environmental and development challenges in Cambodia.

Film Production

Building on the successful methods employed on the Cambodia strand of the parent Changing the Story project, and in collaboration with Dr Rachel Killean (Co-Investigator, Queens University Belfast) and Professor Paul Cooke (Co-Investigator, University of Leeds), a group of 12 young Cambodians were provided training in film production and editing by project partner, the Bophana Center (Cambodia). Training on conservation and indigenous issues – and support for field activity and filming in Modulkiri province – was provided by project partner ELIE (Cambodia). Three films were produced that explore issues around deforestation, elephant welfare, and issues around gender and elephant custodianship in indigenous Bunong communities.

Going Forward

Going forward the project will aim to further maximise the impacts of these films. The films have been disseminated at screenings for indigenous groups, civil society, activist and policy stakeholders. These screenings have attracted significant national media attention. The first was attended by the Cambodian Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture (His Excellency Hab Touch), and the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Environment (His Excellency Neth Pheaktra). Neth Pheaktra remarked that our films are “…not only a vocational training, but also a message to educate the people to understand how important it is to preserve the forest” and Hab Touch praised the films for their promotion of indigenous rights: “From father to mother, from grandfather to grandson, this film also brings together the preservation and promotion of awareness of the cultural heritage and good traditions of the indigenous people."

Trailers for the three films are available above:

  • My Home (Produced by Sopheana CHOUN, Choulay MECH, Sopheak YAM, Sochetra MEAN, Pisen CHHEAN)
  • Memories (Produced by Sonan SOUS, Sreytoch SAT, Theang PAOV)
  • Dull Trail (Produced by Ricky David CHOEY, Mono PEOU, Raksa KHON)

Film Screening and Q&A

Sign up for the film screening and Q&A The screening and Q&A will take place on Friday June 25th