Friday, March 16, 2007

An interview with filmmaker Socheata Poeuv

On the eve of the UK premiere of her award-winning documentary, New Year Baby, at the OXDOX Film Festival, filmmaker Socheata Poeuv (pictured above with her parents) took time out of her busy schedule promoting the film at various festivals around the world, to answer a few of my questions.

Q. Please tell me how New Year Baby was born and the focus of the film? A. Even though my parents told me little about their story of surviving the Khmer Rouge, I somehow knew there was a story there. As a young adult, I always wanted to capture that story and thought that I would eventually write a book. But I started working in television and a documentary film became the natural way to investigate and tell their story. The focus of the film are the secrets that my parents hid in shame which also reveal their great heroism. New Year Baby is a personal story, a remarkable one, but also a common one among Cambodian survivors.
Q. What did the making of NYB mean to you? A. It was difficult to perform my craft in the context of that world which I was trying to avoid. Like many rebellious children, I've spent a lot of time in my life reacting against what my parents wanted or expected from me. I became a filmmaker - I never knew any filmmakers growing up, not to mention a Cambodian one. For my parents, filmmaking is a hobby, not a career. I was taught to stay quiet, to keep my head down and work hard. None of those skills help you when you're trying to make a film. But to make this film, I had to go to the heart of what makes my parent's who they are - what I inherited from them. I had to be with all the pain, shame, devotion, loss, and fear that made up my parent's life during the Khmer Rouge. What I understood out of this whole process is that at the root of what motivates their relationship with me is love and commitment.
Q. Any difficulties filming in Cambodia, and how was the experience in visiting your Mother Country? A. I didn't experience difficulties filming in Cambodia beyond the difficulties that a Westerner experiences when they're not used to third world travel.
I had two initial reactions when I first went to Cambodia. 1. I've never been to a place where everyone looks like me. 2. Everyone instantly knows that I'm not from around here. Growing up in America, Cambodians see themselves as ‘lesser than’ compared with other ethnic groups. Being in Cambodia, I really got the beauty and sophistication of the culture. My Cambodian pride grew.
Q. How pleased have you been with the positive response to NYB from all quarters? A. I have been overwhelmed with the response to the film. I knew it was a great film, but I had no idea that people of all walks of life would respond so emotionally. Nothing compares to being able to move people at their core.
Q. What's been the highlight of this whole experience for you? A. Again, I have to say that the most rewarding thing in the world is having complete strangers enjoy and be moved by your film. Later this month, my family will be able to watch the film with a theatre audience. I can't wait for them to see what I've witnessed over and over again.
Q. What's the next step for the film - and for you personally? A. I am developing the outreach program for the film, with the goal of having the film used as an educational tool. I am also developing other film and television ideas as well as business ideas.
My thanks to Socheata for her co-operation. The film's website provides extensive coverage of the making of the film and I recommend you take the first available opportunity to see this documentary which has been showered with awards, accolades and plaudits in its short existence. If you are in the UK, here are this weekend's film showings:
Saturday 17th March, 6.15pm at Cineworld in Milton Keynes.
Sunday 18th March, 5.45pm at The Old Fire Station in Oxford (I'll be there).
Tuesday 20th March, 6.30pm at The Renoir in London.
To book your tickets, go to the OXDOX website here.

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