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Today is April 17th, the anniversary of the beginning of an end for Cambodia, or “Year 0”. On this day in 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge duped and bullied Phnom Penh’s residents and refugees into leaving their city on the pretext that America would soon bomb the city. They were told it would be a few days before they could return home, perhaps a week at most. Instead, it would be four years for some, and never again for nearly a third of the population who would be dead by then from starvation, easily preventable diseases, and execution. In an effort to drive out communist fighters, relentless and overwhelming bombing by a secret American offense led to well over 100,000 innocent Cambodian deaths. The massive scale only bolstered support for the Khmer Rouge, enabling them to eventually control Cambodia’s population in brutal work camps. Artists and intellectuals were targeted the regime, who viewed their knowledge and ideas as threats to their new goal of an agrarian society. Cultural history was crushed by the deaths of beloved musicians, painters, and writers. The loss of government workers and teachers left very few educated survivors. By 1979, Cambodia’s rich legacy was in ashes, its infrastructure in ruins, and the loss of life estimated at two million. Today we remember those lost during the genocide. We will honor their memories by working to reclaim the beauty and strength still residing in the heart of this resilient country and its people. Further...read more
Khmer New Year, or Chaul Chnam Thmey, is coming up soon and visions of three day long parties have my thoughts going (quite predictably, as my friends can tell you) to food. I have often been asked, “what is Cambodian food like?” and my first answer is always, “delicious!” Throughout production, the crew only had a few western meals and quickly developed favorites among the local cuisine: fish amok curry, beef lok lak, and Khmer-style spring rolls. There were many other amazing dishes I’ll always remember*, but these will forever light up our eyes when seen on a menu. Our schedule was very full and we ended up with only one free day during our shoot in Cambodia to do what we wanted. It was quickly decided that the morning should be dedicated to learning some of the incredible dishes we’d been trying for the past few weeks. I was excited to learn some recipes to bring a little of the amazing country I was learning to love back home with me to share with friends and family. We went to Nary’s Kitchen in Battambang and were told by an exuberant host named Toot that we were going to learn to make fish amok curry, beef lok lak, and Khmer-style spring rolls! Excited and curious, we followed Toot to the local market where vendors sat with buckets and baskets bursting with the bright colors of fresh produce. There our host hilariously proceeded to carefully name and explain all of the roots, fruits, and vegetables that were actually familiar to westerners like us while ignoring all of the things we couldn’t identify. I asked about some mysterious foliage collected neatly in stacks and was told they were morning glories, although unfortunately not the same kind currently taking over my backyard. After purchasing our ingredients, we walked back to the restaurant for the lesson, which was fun and informative. And the food? Almost overwhelmingly delicious. If you have yet to try Cambodian food, I urge you to do yourself a favor and make it happen! Great now I’m hungry, Kathryn *pumpkin curry, ansom chek, whole fish in lemongrass, and nom banh chok….. ——– Recipe for Beef Lok Lak Simple to make, extremely delicious, and quite healthy. Main Ingredients 6 oz steak 4 tsp vegetable oil 1/2 tsp chicken stock powder/buillion 1/2 tsp sugar pinch of salt 1-2 cloves garlic 1-2 tsp soy sauce 1-2 tsp oyster sauce 1-2 tsp mild hot chili sauce or sweet chili sauce 1-2 tsp ketchup 1/2 tsp black pepper powder Serve with thin slices of tomato, cucumber and red onion, a few leaves of lettuce, and slices of lime. Optional: cooked white rice. Directions: 1. Slice steak into half inch cubes and put into a bowl. 2. To the bowl, add 2tsp vegetable oil, chicken stock powder, sugar, soy sauce, salt, oyster sauce, chili sauce, ketchup, and a pinch of black pepper powder and then mix it all up. 3. Thinly slice onion and tomato- you only need a few slices of each – and arrange nicely on a plate with the lettuce. 4. Peel and mince garlic, then set aside. 5. Pour 2tsp vegetable oil in pan and heat on high. While the oil is heating, add garlic and stir fry for 15 seconds. 6. Add steak...read more
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...read more
As Janna and I are running around to meetings and finalizing this and that, we can’t help but reminisce on our time during production in Cambodia. Despite the heat and lack of street signs, we miss that beautiful country every day. One location that stuck in our hearts is the IKTT Village, just outside of Siem Reap. There, Morimoto Kikuo has created a simple paradise that is self-sustainable and produces incredible, all-natural, Cambodian ikat textiles. The village is bursting with life: kittens, chicks, ducklings, and pantsless human babies run with unguarded joy through the shaded compound. All around activity is humming as people work contentedly at their spinners, tend a fire, improve a road, and play with their children. They glance up at us occasionally in amusement as we gawk over a beautiful ikat tapestry slowly emerging from a clacking loom or while Janna chases ducklings in between recording sound. At one point during a break in filming, we joined Morimoto on his balcony for a glass of cool water and a chat. A few young women were quietly painting flowers with graceful, even, strokes while Morimoto lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair. As we sat silently for a moment listening to the sound of paintbrushes on paper and the weavers’ chaotic rhythms below, I made sure to place the scene firmly in my memory to save for a stormy day. He then leaned forward and in a quiet whispery voice, explained how art is like life, you can never stay in one place or you become stale. But, oh, how we wished to stay there! You can read more about IKTT on their website. If you’re interested in traditional ikat and sustainable systems, we highly recommend staying at the village for a workshop. Also we want to say thank you to everyone who has liked our YEAR 33 Facebook page so far! It means a lot to have your support at this early stage. We are so excited for what is to come. -Kathryn Director, Year 33...read more
Just over a year ago, Sueño Documentary Films was formed in my backyard by friends with the desire to actively make a difference in our own dynamic way. The goal was and remains simple: find compelling stories in overlooked communities and share them with the world. When we started looking for the subject of our first documentary, we had thought to highlight the critical and escalating problem of access to clean water that far too many people face. Our research led us to Cambodia where a majority of the population struggles with clean water issues. However, the more we became involved with Cambodia’s story, the more we were awed by the incredibly tragic history and the inspiring resilience of the people. Cambodia was once called “The Pearl of Asia” and even had their own wicked style of psychedelic rock before this artistic nation was brought to its knees by a brutal dictatorship in the 1970’s. Since then, unrest and mismanagement has caused Cambodia to grow much slower than its neighbors and today it is one of the poorest countries in the world. In the midst of all this, we found the beginnings of a new art revival with the potential to impact local and global communities. Filming is now completed and we have started post-production on YEAR 33, the story of an art revival as told through the eyes of three young Khmer artists. Throughout our progress we will provide plenty of opportunities to participate in this movement and show your support for our brothers and sisters in Cambodia. The experience of filming and making friends in Cambodia has been life changing and we are thrilled to bring this powerful story to the international spotlight. Join the movement! Check back regularly on our blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter for film updates, production anecdotes, photos, and more. Sincerely, Kathryn Director, Year...read more