Happy Easter from Cambodia

After a night off (emotionally and physically) from the garbage dumps, we spent the next morning interviewing our first non-PR member of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Interview with Narong
We skipped lunch and went straight to Dan’s village in the Chak Un Rea Long district of Phnom Penh. Dan is the son of a minister who lives in the area and who translated for us. Although it is Located in what used to be a booming manufacturing district, it was quite a tuk tuk experience to get there. We turned off the main road down a NARROW alley where we gladly would have walked the rest of the way but given the amount of equipment we had, we were forced to continue with the tuk tuk. The alley was filled with visitors, families, and plenty of spectators to see our overloaded tuk tuk try to fit in very tight spaces. Our fearless driver, with help from dozens of villagers pushing and directing, cleared the way for us to continue.
Squeezing through Alley
We started by interviewing a mother of seven who was a Khmer Rouge survivor and spoke very openly with detail about her past. Despite being surrounded by what seemed the entire village, we were able to get great content and beautiful compositions.
Jose with kidsClose quarters.Nearby House Warming Party
We moved down the street to interview Pong Yeam, a mother of 5 and a Khmer Rouge survivor. Pong Yeam was married to a Khmer Rouge leader during KR times. During KR rule, her husband was one of the Khmer Rouge head cooks and brought all the main leaders their food. Afterwards, he rose in the ranks, and although Pong Yeam did not know many of the details of where her husband went or what he did, she told us what she knew. She had no idea of his KR involvement until after his death when she heard stories from her husband’s parents. Because of his death and her curiosity, it made for quite a unique story.

Next, we took a much needed day off on Sunday, and I awoke refreshed and ready to move forward Monday morning. Jonathan came down with stomach parasites and Jose was not feeling well for most of the week as well. Despite being undermanned nearly the entire week, we were able to shoot some great footage.

Spent a full morning (five hours) at Tuol Sleng dodging museum patrols and filming close-ups of pictures, cells, and torture tools.
Moments before execution.Jose and John filming Tuol Sleng cells.Baby Snatching

Interviewed Robert Petite (investigating judge for the ECCC) and shot some great portraits of the ECCC guards out front.

Interviewed Dr. Chimm Socheatha of Cambodia’s TPO. Dr. Socheatha is a psychologist, who mainly assists KR victims dealing with post trauma and torture issues including some who were Tuol Sleng survivors and KR commanders. He offered some very interesting opinions on some of the psychological effects of the KR regime and details on how they change a person’s behavior.
Lighting Prep for Dr. Socheatha’s interview
Exhausted from dehydration and working without Jonathan’s assistance, Jose and I fell asleep in the car while driving out of town to the nearby floating village; a series of very old river boats are roped together on the banks of the Tonle Sap river. Thatched houses and sparsely clothed children fill in the gaps between riverboats. We stopped at a house overlooking the floating village and interviewed a grandmother who spoke of her past and perspectives on the KR very openly. She was unaware of Pol Pot’s death, the coming tribunal, or many other important cultural events in Cambodia in the last twenty years. With the setting sun highlighting her face, the floating village in the background, and great first hand stories, we were very glad to have visited the village and thankful to the woman for sharing her story.
Grandmother at Floating VillageJohn interviewing and balancing boom pole
Thursday, Jose and I planned Friday out while Jonathan viewed old KR movies at DC-CAM while recovering. Friday morning, we interviewed Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia at the Embassy near Wat Phnom. Mussomeli proved his reputation as being a great speaker. He spoke very eloquently on his viewpoints on current Cambodian culture, the coming tribunal, and redemption. Meanwhile, Jose managed to impress Jeff Daigle (the Ambassador’s assistant) to the point where he was invited back the next day to direct the Embassy’s lighting crew for an important press conference.

As we were filming some exteriors of the Embassy, we encountered our first major problems with the Cambodian government. A nearby police officer saw that we were filming the embassy and immediately demanded our passports and wanted us to come with him. The guard approached Jose first contact while I was making phone calls and Jonathan was preparing equipment. Luckily, Jonathan had the foresight to recognize the necessity to address the problem quickly, and he immediately went and retrieved an embassy security guard who had checked us in an hour before. He made a couple phone calls and cleared us to film unscathed by the Cambodian Police. Crisis avoided, good job Jonathan and thanks U.S. Embassy!
Midway through Conflict with Cambodian PoliceConflict to Protection by Police.
Friday afternoon, we converted a tuk tuk to a mobile dolly as we filmed street fillers and people on motobikes driving nearby. This involved setting up a tripod in the center of the tuk tuk for Jose to shoot, as Jonathan served as assistant camera, and I leaned outwards directing traffic and getting moto drivers to remain alongside us. No easy task for all parties involved; but it made for some great shots, and it was a lot of fun trying to communicate with drivers.
Directing TrafficSuccess!
We went to Tom’s parent’s house Friday afternoon to film an interview with his mother. She gave a very detailed description of how terrible the walk was when she was evacuated out of Phnom Penh to a labor camp in the provinces. She also recommended some other contacts to interview.
Interview with Tom’s Mom
While Jose was at the Embassy, Jonathan and I packed up all our gear to send Jose and Jonathan on the bus to Siem Reap. I made a quick departure from the guest house after some TERRIBLE treatment from the staff and near theft of our equipment. FYI…If you are ever in Phnom Penh, DO NOT stay at the Anchor Thom Guest House on Monivong Street. Thankfully, Tom picked me up with his car and I moved to another guest house for a night and then on to a good friend’s house today. While Jonathan and Jose are shooting B-roll of Aki Ra at the museum, I am coordinating more interviews here, including possibilities with Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Sihamoni, Sok An, and other Ambassadors in Phnom Penh. After filming an interview with the director of MAG (Mine Action Group) with Christoph, I will be heading to Siem Reap with Tom on Tuesday morning. Cheers and Happy Easter!

-John

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One response to “Happy Easter from Cambodia

  1. Hi Everyone: All the work you are doing is fascinating!. The pictures help a lot. The people do look so nice and kind. What an experience!. It almost seems impossible to be able to put all this material in a film that will be a few hours maybe??. We all live so far away from Cambodia and this is helpful in learning and seeing upclose all the suffering that country lived through. It seems like it was so long ago, but really this all happened yesterday.. Good luck to all of you. Vickie

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