Ghost Mountain: A Forgotten Chapter from Cambodia’s History

On February 20, 2024, the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Responses at Yale MacMillan Center hosted a Q&A on the film Ghost Mountain: The Second Killing Fields of Cambodia (2019) with the film’s director James Taing and its protagonist, his father Bunseng Taing. Based on Bunseng’s personal experiences, the documentary offers insight into a little-known chapter of Cambodia’s history. Between 1975 and 1979, in the wake of the Cambodian Civil War, more than 1,000,000 people were killed by the Khmer Rouge at a series of sites known collectively as the Killing Fields. Roughly 45,000 refugees, including Bunseng, survived these events and escaped to Thailand, but were then forced back over the Cambodian border to the Preah Vihear Mountain, an area infested with landmines. Ghost Mountain tells the story of those refugees who were pushed back. The film has received awards at the Sedona Film Festival as well as the Houston Asian American Pacific Islander (HAAPI) Film Festival among others. 

In a Q&A session moderated by Dr. Quan Tran, Senior Lecturer at the Yale University Ethnicity, Race and Migration Department, Taing and his father talked about their motivations behind making the film and the legacies and impacts of the events that Bunseng and other refugees underwent. The inspiration for the documentary came from James’ desire to understand his heritage and the struggles his family underwent prior to moving to the United States. He decided to make the film as a way of creating a platform for his father Bunseng to share that story with him. As Bunseng commented, “I always wanted to tell… not just my story, but on behalf of the thousands and millions of people that lost their lives in Cambodia.” When Bunseng visits his hometown of Roka Kaong, he makes an effort to educate young people about these events so that they are not forgotten. He would like as well to erect a monument to commemorate and remember them. Bunseng also recently published a memoir about his experiences, entitled Under the Naga Tail: A True Story of Survival, Bravery and Escape from the Cambodian Genocide (Greenleaf Press, 2023).

The event was sponsored by the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Responses (PRFDHR), the Council on Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), and the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM) at Yale.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024