Wrap ReporT: Documentary Outreach to Cambodia 2023
Imagine stepping into a city that was slowly emerging from the grips of a pandemic-induced slumber. Siem Reap, in January of 2023, was a place that had weathered the storm and was ready to greet travelers once again. In a city that boasted hundreds of hotels, only three of them had the resilience to remain open throughout the pandemic. As we landed in Cambodia, the vibrant city was slowly coming back to life, with hotels, restaurants, and other businesses finally re-opening their doors.
As the day drew to a close, the crew members ventured out into the local market with a shopping list in hand. They explored the colorful marketplace, taking in the exotic sights and smells of the area. Later, they strolled down the main street to enjoy dinner at HAVEN Restaurant, which was highly recommended. This early meeting with their changemaker subject was a stroke of luck, thanks to the delicious cuisine.
For our first excursion as a group, the crew gathered outside the guesthouse, eager for the day’s adventure. They climbed into the tour van, ready to explore the Tonle Sap Lake with their knowledgeable guide, Ponheary Ly. As they drove along the winding roads, they admired the picturesque Cambodian countryside and diverse neighborhoods.
The journey was interrupted by a stop for a delicious snack – sweet beans in sticky rice, cooked in bamboo tubes that were peeled like a banana to reveal the mouth-watering treat within. The crew enjoyed every bite, savoring the unique flavors of the Cambodian cuisine. It was a day filled with wonder and discovery, and the crew looked forward to experiencing more surprises on their journey. As the crew approached the village of Kampong Khleang, they were struck by the stunning sight before them. Houses were perched high on stilts, overlooking the tranquil waters of the lake, while boats bobbed rhythmically in the gentle waves. After the van could go no further, the crew followed Ponheary on foot to the docks, where they boarded a boat and embarked on an unforgettable adventure.
The vast expanse of the lake revealed a bustling community of villagers casting nets into the water and hauling in bountiful catches. Ponheary shared her extensive knowledge of the area’s history and cultural significance, including the impact of the Khmer Rouge’s regime and her own inspiring work helping children in small villages nearby.
It was a day of education and enlightenment that left a lasting impression on the crew. As they returned to shore, their hearts filled with appreciation and admiration for Ponheary’s selflessness and dedication, they knew that their journey in Cambodia was only beginning.
The next day marked the start of the crew’s deep dive into their research, as they set out to meet with their Changemaker collaborators for the very first time. One crew made their way to Anjali House, where they were greeted warmly by their main liasion, Nadi. The other crew, meanwhile, headed to a nearby cafe to rendezvous with Paul and Sara, the visionary founders of HAVEN Restaurant.
The crew gathered for breakfast and discussed their Changemaker’s operations and goals. They were enthusiastic and eager to learn about the work that lay ahead. As the meetings ended, the crews left with a clearer idea of what needed to be done in the coming week. Although they were aware of the challenges ahead, they were determined to make a difference in the lives of those they aimed to serve. The crew felt the power of their mission and were excited to begin their work.
Every morning, participants gathered on the rooftop floor of the Guesthouse for Morning Briefings. The sessions were designed to focus their attention on key elements of documentary storytelling that would be crucial for their research and production. Following the briefings, the crews would venture out for lunch before meeting with their changemaker liasion to start their research. The Anjali Crew visited local public schools, observed different classes, and talked to numerous graduates from the Anjali House system, while the HAVEN Crew visited the local market with the head chef, sat in on trainee classes, and tasted some delicious food. By the end of the first week, each group had a main character and story in mind for their films.
The weekend arrived, and with it came a long-awaited break from the intense schedule of the Outreach program. It began with a sunrise tour to the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat Temple, guided by the knowledgeable and passionate Ponheary Ly. The sky was painted with hues of pink and gold as the sun slowly crept up behind the temple’s intricate towers, casting a radiant glow over the ancient stone structure.
The air was filled with the heady scent of incense and the distant sound of chanting monks, adding to the mystical atmosphere of the temple. Ponheary wove together stories of ancient battles, intricate carvings, and the religious significance of the temple, bringing the past to life before the crew’s eyes.
As the tour came to a close, there was a sense of awe and reverence among the group. They left with a newfound appreciation for the beauty and history of Cambodia.
On Sunday, the crew took some well-deserved time to rest and rejuvenate. Some chose to indulge in a relaxing spa day, while others savored the chance to sleep in and recharge their batteries. It was a much-needed break, allowing them to gather their energy and focus on the important pre-production work that awaited them in the upcoming week.
Prep week found our crews eagerly gathered on the rooftop each morning to immerse themselves in the world of documentary storytelling. They brainstormed story ideas, crafted interview questions, and meticulously planned their filming schedules. With laser- like focus and passion in their hearts, they worked tirelessly to ensure that their message was being conveyed in the most impactful way possible.
But these dedicated filmmakers weren’t content with simply planning out their primary documentaries – no, they wanted to create even more changemaking content! So, as part of their preparations, they took on a micro-documentary project, showcasing the incredible work being done by their changemakers in a more promotional light.
As the week drew to a close, the crews were bursting with excitement and anticipation for the upcoming week of filming. With plans in place and their skills honed to perfection, they were ready to capture the heart and soul of their changemakers on camera.
Close to Seven Candle’s Guesthouse was the AMMO Workshop – a space where local artisans craft jewelry using brass bullet casings from the Killing Fields, a sobering reminder of Cambodia’s past. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in a workshop to create their own unique piece. Our group in Siem Reap felt it was important to honor the history and pay our respects by taking part in this experience. Due to limited space, we split into two shifts, spending the entire morning at the workshop.
The week of filming began in a measured pace with the HAVEN team capturing local scenes while the restaurant was closed. Meanwhile, the Anjali crew dived straight into filming around the classrooms, capturing the lively atmosphere of learning and other activities that would serve as the backdrop for their story. By Tuesday, interviews were already in progress as both teams scouted for quiet spots to conduct interviews amidst the sounds of children and the buzz of the kitchen. Each night, the crews sat down to watch their dailies footage and to ensure that they had captured the perfect shots they needed for their films.
The Anjali crew found themselves documenting in residential neighborhoods around Siem Reap, where the families that Anjali House serves live. While filming in a riverside park, which was once the site of an informal neighborhood that was recently demolished, they caught the attention of some curious residents. Meanwhile, the HAVEN crew took a different approach, embarking on a journey to a rural village to film the picturesque rice paddies and surrounding farmland. Guided by their main character, Somoun, they hired a van and set out to capture the beauty of rural life in their documentary.
Throughout the filming week, the crews dedicated time each day to sorting through their footage and creating the initial timelines for the editing process. Additionally, they used the rooftop area as a workspace to update their paper edits, swapping out cards as they confirmed their footage and refining their timelines through discussion as the stories evolved.
The Cambodia crews chose to take a highly collaborative approach to editing. Instead of one editor per project – each crew member took charge of a sequence or two. Everyone was led by the Director and regularly checked in with each other for feedback. On a few mornings, the Cinematographers stepped out for some additional footage. As the week progressed, the sequences were combined and refined until they were ready for public screening. On the last Friday night in Siem Reap, the crews, HAVEN restaurant and Anjali House staff, and other invited guests gathered at Footprints Cafe for the debut of the new short documentary films.
The long-awaited short documentary films from the Documentary Outreach to Cambodia are finally here and ready to be screened! You can now watch them on Vimeo and YouTube by clicking on the links below. But that’s not all! These films will also be submitted to various festivals and other outlets for all to see. And the best part? They are completely free to watch online! That means that the subject organizations can easily download, share, and distribute the films to help spread their stories far and wide.