‘Echoes Across the Mountains’ in Cambodia

Pann Rethea

CAMBODIA (THE PHNOM PENH POST) – In a traditional wooden house in the mountains of Mondulkiri, a Bunong woman dressed in traditional attire and accessories sings a cheerful song.

Standing beside her, tuning a guitar, is the producer of well-known Phnom Penh-based band The Cambodian Space Project Julien Poulson.

Sorng Broum, the singer, was one of Poulson’s first connections with the indigenous people inhabiting Bou Sra, in this northeast Cambodian province of Mondulkiri.

Their first meeting was now more than 10 years ago, but Poulson has continued to visit the Bunong regularly throughout the years to immerse himself in their unique music and culture.

Poulson, a guitarist and a native of the Australian island of Tasmania, describes his experience with the Bunong as “real magic”, and has now engaged in a new project to immortalise that magic – the feature-length film Echoes Across  the Mountains.

Echoes Across the Mountains is the name I’m giving to a film about the music and culture of the Bunong people.

“More specifically, it’s about my own connection with indigenous musicians in Bou Sra village and the experience of coming to know them over a period of almost 10 years,” he said.

Poulson describes himself as an environmentalist and a believer in the value of understanding and recording oral histories, folkloric tales, music and listening to and learning from indigenous voices. The inspiration behind Echoes Across the Mountains flows from a sense of urgency to protect the culture of ethnic minorities around the globe, Poulson said. The movie centres on Bunong musicians struggling to maintain their identity in a rapidly changing world.

Poulson said the movie will be based on interviews and song recordings that he has made over the past 10 years while visiting Bou Sra.

It won’t be his first venture into the world of celluloid.

He studied film in Melbourne and screened his first film – a short film shot on Super-8 based on the story of Cambodian singer Poev Vannary – at Cannes in 2018.

“For me, Bou Sra is a place where I really feel a sense of the spirit of the mountains. I felt compelled to listen and learn about the place and I’m especially drawn to a little village where I’ve kept returning to over this last decade,” he said.

Poulson met Broum during his quest to learn more about the music of the Bunong, a journey that led him to forming strong bonds with them.

In fact, it was Poulson who christened Broum’s band ‘The Cultural Troupe of Bou Sra’ as they didn’t have a name.

He has also spent much time working to promote the community arts group at many of the events he manages, which includes the Kampot Readers and Writers Festival.

“They have been incredible, wonderful and supportive people to work with, they are the storytellers of the mountains, and I’m just helping them be seen and heard. I feel it’s a worthy thing to do, and I love the music I’m discovering because of this,” Poulson said.