As a director of LK Films, Li-Da Kruger is an independent filmmaker, who’s background since 1999 is producing high-end, mainly specialist factual TV series for the UK and international broadcasters. Her most recent project, ‘Prue Leith: Journey With My Daughter’ (Channel 4, 2020), documents Li-Da returning to Cambodia with adoptive mum, in search of her biological parents. Her first feature documentary, ‘Belonging’ (ITV, History), on the same search but alone, was shortlisted for a Grierson Award (2003), kickstarting almost 20 years of research and exploration of her Cambodian roots and dual identity.
Li-Da’s award-winning short, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ (2013), was part of the Unchosen charity’s competitive program (now incorporated into Encounters Film Festival), to highlight modern-day slavery and migrant exploration. The film addressed the john’s role in the sex-trafficking supply-demand chain and is still used in police training nationwide. The subject was introduced to Li-Da, when she filmed Cherie Blair alongside various anti-trafficking NGOs at an international anti-trafficking symposium, in the lead up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The resulting research included working with local NGOs on the front line tackling the challenges of increased sex-trafficking during the event itself, and a short film presentation for CCARHT at a Legatum Institute conference, on local initiatives and nationwide steps taken towards education and safeguarding the most vulnerable communities.
A dedicated Trustee of rural development charity the Nginn Karet Foundation for Cambodia (NKFC), Li-Da is no stranger to some of the challenges faced by vulnerable communities, who as a direct a legacy of the Khmer Rouge, had been left abandoned in the hinterland, impoverished and forgotten. Over 20 years she has witnessed the Foundation’s partnership programs help empower some 20,000 families, who were still being terrorized by the Khmer Rouge as late as 1999, to live sustainable and dignified livelihoods. It was not until the introduction of a traditional school of dance and music – the first of its kind in the countryside – that radical healing transformations from past traumas took place within whole communities.
It was this healing power of dance – Cambodia’s oldest cultural legacy — and its relationship with the identity that Li-Da wanted to archive and explore in her ongoing documentary film called ‘The Angkor Effect’. By forming the Sacred Dancers of Angkor troupe, dance offered children living in villages among the ancient temples a chance of a skilled profession and be part of a booming tourism industry previously denied. Dance also taught them history, ideology, and cultural traditions unchanged until the Khmer Rouge deliberately laid waste to all things past. By osmosis, the parents through their children, measurably progressed in mental health, after reconnecting with family values and traditions from the centuries-old dances. Li-Da aims to highlight some of the complexities facing the young hopefuls as their country develops rapidly around them, as they struggle to survive as a troupe. But one of the biggest challenges facing them is debt and the family pressure to help. Better paid would often mean leaving the village entirely, to be subjected to exploitative and dangerous work, or worse, elsewhere. While dance may be vitally important in giving them a sense of self-value and identity, it offers little protection in the real world of traffickers, load sharks, and other predators out to pounce at any given chance.