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Q&A with Year 33’s Kathryn Lejeune

Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

KatonaTukTuk3I recently visited with Kathryn Lejeune, Director of YEAR 33, who shared some of her experiences during production in Cambodia and revealed some of what’s in store for the future of Sueño and The SELPAK.

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Q: What about Cambodia made you drawn to it so powerfully?

KL: While in Thailand a few years ago, I traded travel stories with a few expats and tourists who had just come from Cambodia. As with most travel stories, the wilder the better, and the ones from Cambodia were some of the most fascinating and, to be honest, completely nuts I had ever heard. They depicted the country as a sort of frontierland with few rules, barely explored wonders, tragedy over breakfast, and epiphanies at sunset. However, underlying each tale was a clear refrain of deep respect, frustration, and longing. These themes seemed unusual to me in the typical traveler story and I think that’s why I just couldn’t get Cambodia out of my mind since then.

During our pre-production research for SDF’s first documentary, Cambodia came up again and I felt like it was where we needed to be. After reading in depth Cambodia’s story and in particular the history of their art scene, I knew I had to go no matter what. Exploring the country for myself made it clear that I would always have a part of myself in Cambodia.

Q: If someone were traveling to Cambodia for their first adventure what three things would you tell them to bring or not bring?

KL: Bring: a smile. Smiles go a long way in Cambodia, so make sure you’re always wearing one!

Bring: extra room in your suitcase. You’re going to want to take some of Cambodia home with you. Make sure to get kramas, a painting or two (or three), a “same same but different” shirt just for fun, handmade ikat textiles, Khmer silver… whatever catches your eye. Like many growing third world countries, their economy is largely tourism based, so buy up but buy responsibly!

Don’t Bring: preconceived notions. Cambodia will surprise you and thrill you, but at the same time it is just another place on earth where people live and love. Just let what happens happen, and don’t try to push ideologies from home onto situations where it has no context.

KatAfterTuolSlengQ: What was the most memorable moment during filming in Cambodia for you?

KL: I have many incredible memories from production of YEAR 33, from watching three generations of Apsara dancers perform in KAE’s beautiful pavillion to walking around the IKTT’s peaceful, yet lively, village. However, one moment that stands out to me occurred during filming at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was pretty rough: torture beds were still in their dismal rooms and photos of the victims hung on the walls along with splatters of blood. I’d never filmed in such an emotionally and psychologically hostile environment before. The oppressive atmosphere and dwelling on the awfulness humans are capable of was really starting to wear on me as I moved from one stiflingly hot room to the next.  Just as I was starting to lose it, though, I moved to a barred window in hopes of catching a faint breeze. I looked out and saw a busy cafe, a nail salon, a Metfone, and plenty of smiling folks going about their day. At first I was outraged and saddened by what I perceived as shallowness or intentional ignorance about their own history. But then, humbly, I realized that before me, in the guise of daily life, was both a form of resilience and a big middle finger to the atrocities of the past. Terrifying tragedies happen, but we are able to move on and live our life. In fact, it is the only thing we CAN do.

Q: Besides the three main characters in YEAR 33, did you meet anyone else during your trip that inspired and touched you the most?

KL: Morimoto Kikuo of IKTT is a rare man and I felt incredibly connected to him on a deep level. Pretty much every word he said felt like it mirrored what was in my own heart, but the reflection was much larger and clearer than I had ever seen before. He spoke about taking risks, pure art, and how life is like a river… it must always change because you cannot go back. Morimoto is a man whose love has made him brave and I will always treasure the time I was able to spend with him.

I was also inspired by Leigh Morlock and Brendan Burke of Basik 855. These east coast cool kids could have gone the usual route and done the NYC fashion thing. Instead, they have made Phnom Penh their home and are doing something both fashion-forward AND meaningful. It takes guts to make a move like that and I give them mad props.

Q: Beyond the film YEAR 33 what are your goals and vision for The SELPAK ?

KL: We created The SELPAK as a way to organize the growing community of people who want to see the arts thrive around the world, and Cambodia especially. The SELPAK is about having fun while making a difference through campaigns that both raise awareness of the importance of art and directly support Khmer artists. We’ll have a mixture of simple campaigns that are as easy as snapping a pic of your favorite piece of art, or more involved challenges that will get creative juices pumping. All of these activities will lead up to our long term goals, which include setting up a dance school in Phnom Penh, an international art competition, and seeing government policy change in Cambodia for better support of the arts. Together we can make this happen.

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Q&A with Year 33’s Janna Watkins

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

 

Janna I had the pleasure of sitting down with Year 33 Producer, Janna for a little Q & A session and got the inner details about production and Cambodia.

Q:What does Sueño mean? How did the power team of Kathryn and Janna come into play?

JW: Sueño translates to “dream” in Spanish, but it means quite a bit more to us. I went to school at UC Santa Barbara and lived in a house on Sueño Street packed with other students found through Craigslist or newspaper ads. Those ‘random’ roommates quickly became an incredibly tight yet diverse group. We call ourselves the Sueños; a group of friends that are more like family than anything else . Kathryn’s husband is a Sueño, which is how we met, but really Kathryn has always been a Sueño at heart. We became fast friends and decided to combine our strengths, drive, and desire to make a difference together, thus SueñoDocumentary Films was born.

Q: What about Cambodia made you drawn to it so powerfully?

JW: I have a background working as a Scientific Advisor to clean water initiatives, making Cambodia a place of interest of mine for years due to their clean water issues. Once Kathryn and I decided to work together we began researching various global issues, but kept coming back to Cambodia. During that initial research, I learned the details of the Khmer Rouge. I had always known there was a devastating war, but learning the specifics really disturbed me. This led me to ask, “What is happening there now?” What we found was so incredible and inspiring we knew we had to go document it.

Q: If someone were traveling to Cambodia for their first adventure what three thingsphoto-34 would you tell them to bring or not bring?

JW: Bring: A GoPro camera! Cambodia is like a storybook land filled with adventures and unique scenes on every corner. You have to be ready to capture each precious moment on the fly; the GOPro is perfect for this.

Bring: An open heart. The Khmer culture is incredibly beautiful; from their cultural arts to how strangers treat one another with such kindness and hospitality. There is a lot to learn from this culture, so make sure you’re ready to have your eyes opened and heart touched.

Don’t Bring: A plane ticket home. You’ll surely want to stay longer than planned, if not stay indefinitely.

Q: What was the most memorable moment during filming in Cambodia for you?

JW: It’s hard to choose! I think the one that I think of first is when Narim, our dancer performed with her mother and grandmother.  The fact that we were able  to capture three generations of dancers together was incredibly rare! The chances of both of the two older generations surviving the war was extremely low given that 90% of Cambodia’s artists were killed. Em Theay, Cambodia’s most famous surviving Apsara dancer, carefully critiqued Narim in her dance practice. We were not only watching a touching scene between family members, but a culture’s history being passed down so it may survive. I was moved to tears. As if that was not enough, Em Theay sang for us. Her voice is so unique, dripping in wisdom; we were thrilled to witness it. When she finished, she said in Khmer “I’ve only ever sung for the King.” My heart paused as I processed the honor we had just been given. I think about that day quite often.

Q: Besides the three main characters in Year 33, did you meet anyone else during your trip that inspired and touched you the most?

JW: Yes, Kikuo Morimoto, founder of Institute for Khmer Textiles. I could go on about him for ages, but I will keep it to this: Never before have I met a happier or more joyful man. It seems his secret is living completely outside of himself. He’s dedicated his life to his work, constantly pushing to preserve traditional Khmer textiles while keeping the process completely natural and self-sustainable. He provides work with honest pay for his artists and has built a community for them. The artists, comprised of mainly women, are encouraged to bring their children to work even though tending to them throughout the day takes up much of the mother’s time. He explained that “A mother is happiest when she is with her children, and her happiness and love can be seen on the fabric she creates.” Morimoto’s way of thinking was nothing short of refreshing and inspiring. If there were more Morimotos in the world, it would be a far better place.

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I Want to Cuddle Wild Monkeys

I Want to Cuddle Wild Monkeys

Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

While shooting in Cambodia I learned something new about myself: I want to cuddle every wild monkey I cross paths with. This was news to me, as I live in Hollywood and have yet to see any wild monkeys cruising down Sunset Blvd.  Needless to say, the opportunity to interact with these wild animals had never been presented to me. I’m not sure why I  thought  they would be in the same category as harmless puppies, but after several encounters (onlookers would call them ‘scares’), I realized that for some reason they do not want to cuddle me back. I find this tragic.

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My first encounter was at Angkor Wat. It was so beautiful to see these ancient temples with the monkeys climbing and swinging on them. I approached one for a picture (tourist moment), and he grabbed for my bag. Yes, I got that close. I grabbed it back and he swatted me, leaving nail marks in my leg. I was strangely excited about this. I’d had physical contact with a monkey!

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I approached my next monkey “friend”  as he was walking away from me, so of course I followed, keeping my distance as the rest of the camera crew yelled warnings at me from across the way. This little friend was sneaky. He kept walking and strutting, then with great speed whipped around  and screamed at me. You can see my reaction pictured. My next friend stole my water bottle. It was then that I quit trying to be buddies. I get it- you don’t like me unless I’m holding a mango, and that’s not a true friend. Now I know what to do the next time I see a wild monkey- throw a peace sign in its directions and carry on.

 

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The Treasure Hunt

The Treasure Hunt

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

Ohhh Cambodia. I miss it everyday. And everyday I work towards going back. I even dream about it. It is not just the beauty and inspiring people that make such a lasting impact, but also the adventures had and memories made. The Director of Year 33, Kathryn Lejeune, and I shared many while in Cambodia, one of which was the hunt for awesome street art. And we found it.

Kathryn and I set out alone one early morning determined to find some hidden gems.  It was a treasure hunt. I personally can’t think of anything better. So we hopped on a moto taxi and off we went.

 We arrived at our destination and realized that it was a place of great controversy: it was what used to be The Lakeside. Over the past few years the government has filled Boeung Kak Lake with sand to allow for foreign luxury high rise buildings to be built. There was a fishing village surrounding the lake whose means to make a living have been destroyed. Additionally, the ASEAN Summit was in town that day and the military presence was incredibly prevalent, which just heightened the sense of urgency and in some strange way, adventure.

The urban art started slowly, with some tags and symbols, but then turned into huge murals and pieces that were undeniably beautiful and thought provoking. We photographed and shot piece after piece, the excitement always rising. After we had found everything that was slightly hidden, we knew that we had to now really start searching for the gold- after all the best street art is sometimes hard to find.

We began chatting with the locals, telling them about our project and asking for guidance. We met one street artist from New Zealand who pointed out some pieces that belonged to the world’s most famous urban artists, Banksy. I have only seen his work in person on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and never would have guessed to see him here, but it made perfect sense as his pieces often address matters of controversy.

Our new friend told us of Banksy’s  most moving piece that was on the side of a house half buried in sand that said “SO THIS IS PROGRESS?” He added, “That was a couple months ago. It might be totally covered with sand by now… he did this piece knowing only a few would see it before it was destroyed.” That’s all we needed to hear. We kindly asked to go through people’s yards, raising our hands in sampeah to show respect. We crossed a small stream balancing on a fallen tree. I knew I could die happy. Here I was, with Kathryn who had over the past year become a very dear friend, in Cambodia, walking through people’s homes, trying not to disturb their chickens, on a fallen tree, to find amazing street art. Yes.

We passed piece after piece, eventually climbing up the sandy dune to see a home half covered in sand. As we approached, we saw a family still living there, but not Banksy’s message. We wanted to explore the other homes  on the sandy stretch, but we would have to cross an energetic demonstration opposing the lake’s fill in. Kathryn, carrying a backpack, and I carrying the tripod on my back which looked dangerously close to a bazooka, debated over pursuing Banksy’s piece any further. If we were to cross the petition site, with our gear, with the incredible military presence, there was a good chance of us getting ourselves into some kind of trouble. So we turned back.

We hailed a moto taxi just as the military was getting into a formation of some kind, complete with plexiglass shields and AK-47s. Going against everything I knew,  I covertly snapped a picture, pretending to use my phone as a mirror to put on chapstick. Our taxi driver looked at me and said “Okay, NOW. It’s time to go.” We hopped on and sped off, knowing we had just found our treasure.

 

Loving it all,

Janna

Producer, Year 33

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