DEBUT director Christopher Kelly gives us an intimate, visceral, eye-opening journey into the heart of an important story that feels like it needs to be told.

It centres on a group of people in Cambodia who fought and protested with all their might against land developments that left their communities and homes torn down.

Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov are two passionate mothers looking to better their family life. Venerable Sovath is a cheery-faced Buddhist monk who sees the suffering of those around him and decides to act on their behalf, despite the protestations of his fellow monks who see his behaviour as casting a shadow over their religion.

The trouble starts when a corporation, with backing from the World Bank, decides to develop the Boeung Kak lake in the country’s capital of Phnom Penh. This involves filling the lake with sand so that properties can be built on top of it. This means destroying the surrounding community of economically challenged residents who don’t fit the image that the government wants to project. The people aren’t happy and major protests ensue.

The film was shot over the course of six tumultuous years so that you get to see how the ongoing catastrophe develops into the massive protests of the title –over not just the lake development but also the growing wealth divide and election fraud concerning Prime Minister Hun Sen.

These events are collated into a powerful blow that strikes to the heart, head and gut – the dividing of the story into chapters gives us that feeling of it being a challenging, ongoing saga. The subject matter might seem on the surface to be quite impenetrable to Western audiences – particularly its exploration of complicated Cambodian politics – but it’s made to feel universal in how it paints a story of gripping investigative journalism and a community coming together to fight for what’s theirs.

Kelly deftly swings between compassionate activist wake-up call to painfully up-close-and-personal journeys, capturing in stark lucidity the protests which leave many beaten.

What good is so-called modern progress and prosperity, to make the Cambodian capital an attractive city for the rest of the world, when the poor and voiceless most in need are left behind, forced from their homes, attacked and pushed aside?

This film let’s their story be heard in a clarity that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.