A thoughtful, visually strong docu, “Sentenced Home” looks at three Cambodian men who are being deported from the United States to a country they barely know because they committed felonies in America when they were much younger, and despite the fact they have already served time for their crimes in the U.S. From Little League playing fields in Seattle to killing fields-turned-rice paddies in Cambodia, helmers David Grabias and Nicole Newnham chart these men’s struggles. Persuasive pic should find a safe haven on cable.
The filmmakers lay out the peculiar circumstances that led to this legal anomaly whereby certain Cambodian ex-cons can be doubly penalized. For many years Cambodia refused to accept deportees, so Cambodian immigrants in America who committed crimes were jailed rather than deported. After 9/11, however, sufficient pressure was brought to bear on the Cambodian government in Phnom Penh that its reversed its policy and began accepting the deportees.
The U.S. immigration laws do not allow review or redress, and are not enforced on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, when the U.S. government started deporting Cambodians convicted of a crime, they included those who had already served their sentences.
The three men profiled are at different stages of deportation, though all fled the Khymer Rouge as children in the ’80s, all reside in Seattle, and all ran afoul of the law when involved in youth gangs.
Kim Ho Ma is mere days away from being carted back to Cambodia at pic’s opening. Having remained a petty criminal, he finds no quarrel with the States for shipping him off, though he feels those who opted for the straight and narrow should not suffer the same fate.
The film’s second ex-offender Loeun Lun is now married with two children, and both he and his spouse work hard to support their family. Desperately attempting to arrive at a solution that will let them stay together, Loeun’s wife unrealistically considers moving to Cambodia to join him.
The third deportee is Many Uch, a quiet, contemplative man who consciously tries to atone for his past mistakes by coaching a minority Little League team, thus providing and alternative to street gangs that was unavailable to him as a child.
Pic follows the thoroughly Americanized Kim Ho and Loeun Lun as they are “sentenced home” to Cambodia. Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Many Uch still awaits his fate.
Grabias and Newnham, helped by lenser Howard Shack, limn with considerable artistry the correlation between the individuals and their surroundings, from Seattle’s apartments, cafes and immigration offices to Cambodia’s colorful bazaars and pastoral hinterlands.