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We create documentaries focusing on individual stories and their global impact, while advocating empowerment and sustainability.

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.

janna temple 3



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Dance with Cambodia

Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

DanceWithCambodia282Show your appreciation for Cambodia’s dance movement! They’ve had years of hardships, but are just as beautiful and strong as ever. Let’s celebrate this revival as one.

Send us a short video (less than 20 seconds) of you dancing your heart out, whether showing off your perfect pirouette or shaking your booty like there’s no tomorrow. We’ll compile all your awesome vids into one big love letter to our Khmer dance friends.

Three of our favorite videos will be selected as finalists and each will get a cool gift from Cambodia. Voting on Facebook will determine the grand prize winner who wins a wrap bracelet of their choice from The Brave Collection.

Instagram (Instavid): #theselpak  #year33
Email: subject line: Dance With Cambodia

August 7th midnight PST

This is an official campaign by The SELPAK.
Join the movement, be a part of the ‘PAK. LEARN MORE.

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In the Cool Shade

In the Cool Shade

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

The serene city of Battambang, Cambodia was quickly fading in the rearview mirror of our $8 motorbike rental. Janna and I took turns randomly shouting “left, right, straight!”, reveling in our quest for the apex of authenticity and charm sure to be at the end of an “undiscovered” dirt road. I imagined simple shaded platforms, hammocks overlooking an idyllic lake, delicious food, and cold drinks. Crocodiles

After a brief stop to hold baby crocodiles and watch grown crocs fight over decaying snakes, we set out for the countryside. Narrow roads took us on a hot, dusty journey where busy markets and hotels gave way to homes selling items from their yards and rice paddies reflecting the cloudless sky. I glanced back at Janna and gave the international signal for “let’s get some beer”. She nodded earnestly, but the previously ubiquitous red Angkor signs were nowhere to be seen.

Sometime later, we spotted a small red sign in front of an unkempt shack. Not quite our hoped for hidden gem, but I parked and cheerfully called into the darkness. A mostly naked man emerged slowly tying on a dirty sarong. He eyed us incredulously as we pointed toward the sign and mimed drinking. “Two Angkor beer please,” I said in Khmer, one of the few phrases I knew along with “thank you”, “sorry” and, “hello, how are you.”

“No Angkor,” he huffed, but after rummaging in an old cooler came up with two lukewarm cans of a beer we had never seen before or since. He handed us these in exchange for $1 and stumbled back inside.

IMG_0967We stood in the brutal sun sipping already warming beers. Sweat streamed from every pore while our dream of paradise wilted. Then we heard a call from the home across the street where a few smiling women waved us over.

As we walked towards the small wooden house, an old woman creakily got up from her seat and waddled over to a chair just vacated by a younger woman. I watched the strange game of musical chairs until I realized they were making room for us on a bench. We protested meekly but allowed ourselves to be guided down. It was 20 degrees cooler in the shade and I felt a bit of life seep back into my body.

At first I was wary, conscious that we had just bought something from a neighbor, perhaps a competitor.  Yet as the minutes passed I realized they had offered their home and shade to us for no reason other than kindness. This thoughtfulness toward strangers was unexpected and touching. Our languages were different but a camaraderie quickly developed through smiles and knowing nods.

I had found my diamond in the rough: not in a scenic photo-op to share online, but in a wordless connection in the cool shade of unconditional hospitality.

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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.


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!


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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April 17, 1975

April 17, 1975

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

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.

April 17. CLAUDE JUVENAL / AFP / Getty Images

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.

aIMG_0283.CR2Today 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 Reading

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I Can Still Taste It

I Can Still Taste It

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Year 33 | 0 comments

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.

644152_10151126981977596_514854775_nOur 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,

*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.


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 and stir vigorously until it’s done- about 1-2 minutes each side- and then pour over the veggies on the plate.
7. Fry egg and place on top of steak.

Serves 1 and easily multiplied!

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