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Inspired by the real-life plight of workers sold into Southeast Asia’s fishing industry and featuring a powerful performance from its first-time star, this gripping high seas drama was awarded the Panorama Prize by Berlinale’s Ecumenical Jury.

Tired of toiling in the rice fields, 14-year-old Chakra (a magnetic Sarm Heng) leaves Cambodia in search of a Bangkok factory job. After paying smugglers to ferry him over the border, the boy is instead traded to a seafood trawler where violence and murder are a routine occurrence, all under the watch of ruthless and sadistic captain Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro).

Making his feature debut after several shorts – including MIFF 2013 Best Australian Short Film winner, Tau SeruAccelerator Lab alumnus director Rodd Rathjen combines an edge-of-your-seat thriller with the stark reality of the modern-day slave trade. Building tension until it’s ready to snap, the resulting film is entertaining from the first frame to the last while always remaining sensitive to the subject matter.

Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, and stunningly shot by cinematographer Michael Latham (Island of the Hungry Ghosts and Strange Colours, MIFF 2018), Buoyancy was filmed on location in Cambodia with a cast of non-actors who lend the work a vérité feel that underscores the real-life urgency of its message.

“A terse minimalist thriller … Heng’s largely wordless central performance is captivating.” – Sight & Sound

Read a Q&A with Rodd Rathjen.