The Bamboo Bridge highlights the strong connection the people of Koh Pen have with a unique bridge
Juan Francisco Salazar’s beautifully-shot film tells the stories from three generations of bridge builders and the enormous impact a bamboo bridge has had on the community who cared about its majestic structure. We spoke to Salazar ahead of the film’s screening at this year’s Antenna Documentary Film Festival.
The Bamboo Bridge brings together the people and stories that took place around a unique 1.5-kilometre-long bamboo bridge that for generations joined the rural community of Koh Pen to the city of Kampong Cham in Cambodia. How did you learn about the bamboo bridge and what motivated you to make a documentary about it?
The film is a collaboration with renowned economic geographer – Professor Katherine Gibson (University of Western Sydney) – who has been developing a research project on Monsoon Asia, which looks at community economies in transformation and how they are intimately linked to ecological change. Katherine had seen my previous film at Antenna – Nightfall on Gaia – and she invited me to collaborate and direct a film about the bridge and the people whose livelihoods are related to it.
When you were making The Bamboo Bridge, what surprised you most about the evolution of making this unique structure?
Everything surprised me. The first time we walked across the bridge, it was amazing how strong it felt, and how it bends with you as you walk. It’s like it embraces you and your body. The bridge (or the bamboo) changes colours depending on the time of the day and if it rains. When there is a strong wind, the bamboo pillars become like pan flutes and the bridge speaks back to you in an ancient language. Cinematographer Robert Nugent was incredibly subtle to capture this.
How the bridge is built and the expertise of the master builders is extraordinary. The bridge illustrates the relevance of social solidarity economies, especially back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how it brings communities together. It is also built following the rhythms of the seasons. During the months where there is no bamboo bridge the master builders would run a ferry service between the city and the island on the Mekong river.
You interviewed several bamboo bridge master builders and operators. How did you contact them?
Everyone was contacted through the Cambodian run NGO – Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA). They gave us access to people that would have otherwise been impossible. We also worked with Bora Sou (local student and activist) and Sopheak Sao (a well-known Cambodian documentary filmmaker) who collaborated with the interviews, translations and field production.
In 2017, the bamboo bridge was dismantled and replaced by a government funded concrete bridge. What kind of impact did the bamboo bridge have on the local people and how did this change after it was dismantled?
The impacts are ongoing, making them difficult to measure. The newly built concrete bridge has brought electricity and running water to the rural villages on the island – giving them a kind of “24/7 - 365 days a year” connectivity to the city. This means they have better access to health services, markets, urban amenities and a different lifestyle. But as expected, this also brings about significant changes to knowledge of local traditions and practices and their way of life. There are moments in the film where these different views on the impact is shown.
Tuesday 22 October 2019, 6:30pm | Chauvel Cinema
Saturday 26 October 2019, 4:00pm | Riverside Theatre
Sunday 27 October 2019, 4:00pm | Verona Cinema
Image: The Bamboo Bridge. Photo by Sopheak Sao.