Displaced Yankee Productions | 2006 | July
Archive for July 2006

Last Day

We’re nearing the end of our run here and both Art and I are tired and ready to come home to California. (I’m sure Art’s wife is ready too) It will take some time to process everything I have seen and gotten footage of and now I am about to embark on the exciting third phase of the project, the beginning of the editing process. Hopefully, by the time we return to Cambodia in January, we will have a rough cut ready of the film.
We began our last day filming by heading to CCF for Layseng’s formal interview. On our two previous attempts to interview her, she was either sick or in a distraught mood. Honestly, I was expecting to arrive and not have her available thus putting off the interview till January. However, not only was she finally ready, she was in quite a talkative mood, speaking for more than a half an hour about her life. She basically talked longer than all the other CCF kids put together. It was wonderful and she shared many moments about her life that were insightful and touching. Layseng is a child from Stung Meanchy. She worked in the dump for long days scraping through the trash heaps looking for things to sell. She spoke of her alcoholic father and how her parents would fight. She also told how afraid of the big trucks she was – her uncle fell asleep on night at the dump and had his head run over by one of the trucks, killing him. She also wants very badly to learn English so she can speak to foreigners that come to visit. Layseng has always been a sickly child and suffered tremendously in the dump while she lived there. When she came to CCF she had a host of medical problems that they are still working to solve. She had just returned that weekend from a visit to the dump to see her parents and small baby sister. The evidence of the trip was quite visible – she had picked up lice while she was there. Art has been teasing me the whole trip about my cuddling with the children and coming home with it myself. He’s got me so paranoid, I’ve been checking in the mirror three times day.

Russian Market

Being back a day early has left Art and I with little to do on this hot and humid Sunday. We sleep in for a change and head back to shoot W’aht Phnom’s pagoda from a distance since we were banned from filming there. We find a spot to get a good shot with the wide-angle lens and I point out to Art that we are next to the giant American embassy. A guard waves at us and we wave back and point to the pagoda to demonstrate what we are filming. However, once we pack up our bags and climb back into our Tuk Tuk, we are pulled over by two security guards. Welcome to a post 9-11 world. They are friendly but persistent. No one is allowed to film the embassy. We identify ourselves as Americans, show him our film permit and explain we were not filming the embassy. He asks how he can believe us and Art offers to show him the footage he just shot. The guard agrees and Art shows him the footage through the viewfinder. Satisfied we have not breeched national security, he shakes Art’s hand and we continue on our way.
We decide to head to CCF to see if we can get some footage of our kids on the weekend when they are not in school. Turns out CCF is fairly empty on the weekends. Most of the kids are off visiting family, visiting friends, out at extra curricular classes, etc. The only one there from the project is Meng Ly whom we just returned with. There is no English speaking staff there for us to communicate with either so we opt to head back to the hotel. But first I spend a few moments with my sponsor child, Lyda, who is there. I also buy a ton of junk food across the street and distribute it to the kids. I put Meng Ly in charge of distribution. He holds up his hands and announces, “Candy for everyone!” We leave a bunch of happy kids.
On a side note, I thought you might all enjoy an update on the baby in the relocation center. I spoke to Fiona a few days ago. She had been back out to the camp to do medical checks on the woman with the gangrene hand and the new infant baby. The woman with the hand was not there, having been taken to a hospital for surgery. However, the new baby and his parents were. Happily, a non-profit had bought them a pallet bed and they were up off the ground and out of the water. The baby was thriving and the mother was much better and no longer fighting her infection. The family was just beaming with pride over their new addition. Fiona said despite where they were; they were doing much better and enjoying being new parents. The little baby boy was healthy. A bit of good news.


Fried Frog?

After the pleasant fare on the menu the night before at the hotel restaurant, I opt to skip breakfast altogether. I have no desire to get sick or have to use a bathroom here after a rather vivid description of a local water closet and the need to “deet” my backside because of the amount of flies. We head back to wait for the ferry and SoPhy continues his quest to revolt me by buying Art a large bag of deep fried crickets. Art, ever the hungry one, is eager to try and encourages me to participate. Since I wouldn’t even eat breakfast at our sketchy hotel that morning, I have no idea why he thinks I would suddenly be craving toasted insects. And certainly not after SoPhy warns against getting a “soggy” one. Art pops a few in his mouth and decides they are not so good after all. Well, I certainly could have told him that BEFORE he put one in his mouth.
We slip, slide, curse and glide our way down the slick mud road to Meng Ly’s house once more. I am fairly certain we have left portions of our van in various places along the way. The boys are happy to see us and we spend some time talking to the parents about their lives and the difficulties of surviving as farmers in the provinces and the lack of opportunity for the young people there. They are so happy that Meng Ly is living at CCF and getting a chance at a better life. We film them as they go about their every day activities. Meng Ly chops wood, builds a fire and helps his mother prepare food. His father digs large baskets of dirt from the cornfields and hauls them back to work on a barrier against the rain. We spend some time getting some establishing shots of the cornfield and quickly discover how boring corn looks on film. Then Art notices a large frog on the ground. In an effort to stage a small boy farm scene, he tells Meng Ly’s younger brother to catch the frog. He happily obliges and we smile in amusement as he pounces through the corn stalks chasing the frog.


On the Road Again

Was it only last weekend I was complaining about the road to the village in Battambang? We didn’t know how good we had it. Poor Nin, she of the car sick prone constitution, is once again installed in the front seat of our decrypted van as we bounce and slide precariously along on the road to Prek Dach, the village in the Kandal province where Meng Ly, one of our documentary boys, grew up. We stop at a market before heading onto the village roads to buy a case of noodles for the family as a gift. SoPhy returns with a little something extra – Durian fruit for Art. I swear he’s going out the van door down an embankment when he least expects it.
Our Cambodian fixer, Borom, had confidently reassured us that Kandal was only twenty minutes away. After spending so much time here, I have discovered that asking for directions from a Cambodian is like getting directions from an American male. They will never admit when they are lost or heartily insist the village is just around the next bend.
The roads are in terrible shape and washed out in sections along the way. The van screams in protest as our driver forcefully shifted gears trying to maintain control on the backcountry road to Prek Dach. The mud and holes are so deep in certain areas, we have a real concern we may get stuck and actually begin discussing sleeping in the van if we cannot get out. At a particularly bad spot next to a large tree and a small hut, the van loses traction and begins to slide sideways. We narrowly miss taking out the hut’s front porch and slide backwards down a short incline missing the tree by inches. I am concerned we will hit the tree trying to power our way back up and I have Meng Ly and Saroeurn switch seats with me in case we crash and the window breaks. Three tries later, our masterful driver, Poun Maub, however navigates his way out of this mess. We applaud his efforts but he smiles and assures us it is far from over.


S21 Genocide Museum

Today was a fairly light film day. Art and I went out to get some establishing shots of the city and made sure to have our hotel call for Vantha, our favorite Tuk Tuk driver. We made the mistake of not using him yesterday instead of waiting for him. Art wanted to film a sunset and we asked another driver to take us to a spot on the other side of where we were in order to film it. He insisted he knew what we meant, but of course did not. We wound up getting a very long tour of the city, not getting the sunset, but we did get a nice close up of him stopping to pee on the side of the road. You think I would have learned my lesson in March when Theresa and I didn’t use Vantha one time and wound up lost in a dark alley in a remote part of the city. There is only one thing I have learned for sure here in Cambodia. There is NO other Tuk Tuk driver but Vantha.
After getting our city shots, we went to CCF to interview Layseng. Fate doesn’t always unfold your way when working with kids and Layseng is in bed with Pink Eye. As it is contagious and not really a good image for the camera, plus the fact it makes her feel lousy, it is not going to be the best moment for the interview. We hope it will clear up by Monday; otherwise, her interview will have to wait till January. Such are the breaks of the documentary filmmaker.
We take advantage of the extra time and decide to try and get into the S21 Genocide museum and The Killing Fields with our camera gear. Ny, our amazing translator, not only talks our way in, but we don’t have to pay at S21. I ask her what she said and she shrugged. “You know, I just tell them non profit project, spreading awareness, blah, blah, blah.” I will try Blah, Blah, Blah the next time I need to sweet talk someone. The Killing Fields lets us in as well after I fill out an additional application and fork over $25 in fees. We spend some time shooting footage of the skulls, bones and bits of clothing left from the people who were murdered there during the genocide. Two women from Idaho stop to ask what we are doing and leave with the website info and a promise to spread the word about the project. Building awareness of the film one random person at a time.
Now I’m taking an hour to myself before we head back to CCF to film a music class. Then we are calling it a night and getting ready to head to Kandal countryside tomorrow with two of our boys, Meng Ly and Saroeurn. Chances are we’ll be out of touch for a few days again so I expect lots of messages and emails when we get back!
Peace and Love – Heather

Back To School

It has been the most rewarding and amazing day. We were a little nervous as we headed to Chharram’s street corner, worried that his mother would change her mind at the last moment. Chharram was grinning from ear to ear when we pulled up. His little sister jumped into my arms and his mother greeted us warmly with the traditional flat clasped hands and short bow. We loaded in the van and headed to CCF for the mother’s interview – the last step in getting Chharram enrolled as a student there. All of our worries were put to rest. Chharram was not only a perfect candidate for the shelter, but his mother agreed to let him live there and study full time. Ny and I were exchanging high fives out of sight of the camera during the interview process. After the formal paperwork was done, we had our driver take the mother and little sister back to their street corner. Unfortunately, the little sister is not old enough for CCF yet, but here is hoping that in two years, she too will be enrolled. She has already won the hearts of the whole staff. Giggling, playing and throwing herself into everyone’s arms. Even Art is charmed by her as he throws her in the air a couple of times, then settles on the floor to play alphabet puzzles with her. I am fairly certain she will fit in my carry on and Cambodian customs is very lax, but the other LAX in my future – not so much. Los Angeles airport is a bit stricter and I’m fairly certain they will notice a three year old in my bag.
It is transformation time. Chharram is brought to the showers and scrubbed down. He reemerges wearing a school uniform, slickly combed back hair and a smile to break your heart. He is overjoyed and cannot quite believe his dream that he so wistfully told us about Monday in an interview on the side of the road, while he was clad only in shorts and filthy dirty is coming true. To see this life transforming before our eyes is richly rewarding. When you look at the big picture in Cambodia and see everything that is wrong, you cannot help but be discouraged and wonder what good any small amount of help can do. I promise you, these little things matter. Seeing that bright, exceptional boy dressed in school clothes and beaming with pride, made every difficult day here worthwhile. The staff gave him school supplies next and a new backpack to put it in. Then he was brought to class and introduced. It didn’t take him long to fit right in. He chatted animatedly with the other kids. Ny and I watching on the video monitor were completely enthralled at the transformation before us. Suddenly, Ny exclaimed in delight. Sitting two seats over from Chharram, unnoticed by us was Ngan! He was so changed from the boy we met in the dump yesterday we didn’t even recognize him! Apparently, Scott agreed to his admission late yesterday evening after we had already left and he was in class that morning starting his new academic career as well. Talk about exhilarating. Ny turned to me and smiled. “Two lives.” She said. “Two lives changing before our eyes.”


It’s amazing how I keep winding up back at a place I never want to see again – Stung Meanchy. We pass the dump’s sign on the way in which reads “Helping to keep Phnom Penh beautiful” Ironic words for the ugliness that lies within. We get there early before the worst heat of the day and discover that it is apparently the height of garbage picking rush hour. It is absolutely crowded with kids and trucks and the flies are so thick, they rise up in clouds of black by the thousands. There is plenty of footage for Art to shoot for the B roll between the tractors and the scavenging children: pulling apart plastics here, separating out garbage from a pile of discarded noodles there. It is revolting to think that they will consume those noodles later. I’m thankful I skipped breakfast today and then I’m ashamed of the very thought that I have the freedom to simply skip a meal while these kids pick noodles from fly and maggot filled piles.
We are having no luck at all getting kids to talk. Many are too busy and don’t want to miss the good garbage as it comes through. Others are simply illiterate and cannot really answer the questions with complete thoughts. They know nothing beyond the dump about life or opportunity. We meet one girl who was born here. She is fourteen. She has been raised literally in the dump and knows nothing else. Her world is limited to the mountain of rubbish and the sound of dump trucks coming. For her, there is no future. Having never been to school and with no hope at her age of starting an education, she is content with her life with no expectations of the future. Perhaps when you put it in perspective, she is fortunate – she has a life here in the dump with her family and she has not been sold into prostitution. We here a couple of chilling description from kids on the things they find: a lower leg, a bag of fetuses…. It chills to the bone.
Finally, after traipsing through the sinking mounds of filth and rot, we venture to a quieter part of the dump. A boy calls to us from the top of a small dump truck. He is willing to be interviewed if we will wait for him to finish his work. His name is Hov Ngan. He is 13 years old. Smart and articulate, he discusses everything from his family life to his work in the dump to his future ambitions. He doesn’t want to wind up like his father, a life long trash picker. He tells us foreigners care only for the girls and not for the boys. Girls are rescued more often and the boys are left behind. He shows us a wound on his foot where he stepped on a piece of glass the week before. The entire interview, Ngan is covered in flies and one even perches on his lower lip completely unnoticed by him. For my part, I am madly waving off the army of bugs coming from the curious boy who has perched at my side. We decide to cast all our fortunes with this bright, well-spoken youngster and ask if we can visit his home in the dump village. I privately go off to the side and call Scott to ask if I can bring a 2nd boy with me. Scott had previously given me the go head to bring in Chharram, the little street beggar with the little sister from the day before. He tells me to bring Ngan as well. While I am talking, a pretty little girl with tears running down her face comes up to me and throws herself in my arms. It is Layseng, one of the girls from CCF and a child we are profiling in the project. She came home to the dump the night before to visit her dying father, who is suffering from sclerosis of the liver. She missed the Tuk Tuk back to CCF for school that morning and was sad and worried about her father. Mind you, this is a man who has beaten her and treated her like an animal in the dump, yet her love and affection for him is like that of any child with their beloved parent. She hasn’t eaten, needs to get back to school and is worried about her hungry family. I hug her and tell her I will take care of everything. We follow Ngan and Layseng to the village and spend time with each of their families. Layseng’s mother, father and baby sister live in a well built hut that Scott at CCF financed. It is still rough and meager by any standards, but it is on stilts off the ground with two levels. One for sleeping and one for gathering. Each space is about 8’x10’. Her family speaks to us about surviving the Khmer Rouge, the government and its abandonment of the poor and how they miss their daughter but are happy she is getting an education.


Hunting for Interviews

Art and I got up at 5:30 this morning to head out to the riverfront and shoot some footage. As many of you already know, I am totally not a morning person and there’s nothing harder than trying to be cheerful in front of someone you don’t know that well because you don’t want to let on that you are a bitch in the morning. There’s not too much to see this early dawn. Turns out the daily afternoon and evening rains keep most of the normal street crowd seeking drier ground. We spent about an hour and decide to get a catnap before the crew arrives. Today, we are interviewing street children about themselves, their lives and their future.
Hunting down good interview subjects requires a little finesse and a lot of luck. When you are not looking for them, street kids are all over you. I sometimes find them clinging to my pockets as I head into the hotel. But when you need them? A totally different story. I thought about pulling out a dollar and waving it over my head, but that would have brought us more attention than we really needed.
We started at W’aht Phnom, a large national park with a pagoda. Ny and I have developed a system. She and I walk around and target a likely subject. She introduces us and asks a few of the questions to see how they answer and how open they are. Then, if they agree, we ask them to appear on camera and bring in the crew.
Things are going marvelously for the first twenty minutes. We find a homeless beggar girl who is carting around a baby on her hip. Turns out her entire family – mother and eight siblings – are homeless and living in the park and around the streets. She is very open about her abusive father and the fact she carries the baby sister to make her more sympathetic while begging. We are just about to call Art over from where he is shooting B roll when trouble hits. Two policemen corner Ny and I and demand our papers. We hand them over and they make quite a show of examining them. One of them gets on the radio and the next thing we know there are nine policemen around us. Art wisely and quietly slips out of sight. Ny is talking back and forth with them in Khmer. She even gets the minister of the interior on the phone that signed our permits to no avail. Apparently, there is a new form that we must have. It is clearly an intimidation meant to generate bribe money. I don’t have enough money to bribe all of them and we don’t want to cause a lot of trouble, but I am really frustrated. This is one of the main areas we are suppose to conduct our interviews. Borom, our production coordinator and SoPhy our sound guy head over to the ministry to try and sort things out. But for now, we are out of W’aht Phnom. It is a disappointing set back and a waste of a couple of hours. While we are heading to the National Museum area, Borom calls. Apparently, they have made up a new city permit just for us. How convenient and thoughtful. For the bargain price of $50. However, rescheduling on our tight schedule is going to be tough. The only thing to do would be to shoot it on our one open day that was for R&R. Which means an additional $450 for the crew as well. That thoughtfulness just keeps on giving.


By now we should own stock in White Rose restaurant in Battambang. I wonder if the staff, which includes a couple of fairly little boys who clean and bus, actually leave or if they sleep there. We have been there for breakfast, lunch and dinner our entire stay and the only thing that changes is the shirt they are wearing. The panhandler is the same too –a teenager boy with one diseased milky eye whom I gave 1000 rels to the first day. He has taken up sentry at the doorway and stares at me each meal, It’s a little disconcerting but effective for him. I’ve given him rels after every meal.
Our plan this morning is to get some footage of the rice farmers in the countryside. SoPhy has relatives that live in Battambang and they have agreed to escort us to some scenic farmland. We drive down a forested, narrow dirt road and arrive at their house. It is a very nice house by the neighborhood standards and within moments of disembarking, there are fifteen or more family members hugging, kissing, laughing and good-natured wrestling around with SoPhy. They are thrilled to see him. SoPhy was born in Cambodia, raised in a refugee camp as young boy before being brought to America with his family by a Lutheran Church charity program. They settled in Amherst, Massachusetts. His mother is here today at her relatives house visiting. It is only her second trip back to Cambodia since fleeing the country. Like all the Cambodians we have met, hospitality is something they take very seriously. Chairs are brought out, cold drinks materialize before us as soon as we sit down and the gift of fruit we brought is immediately shared out for all to enjoy.
Unfortunately, we cannot stay to long and we pile into the van again with SoPhy’s sister in law Chook. She is our escort to the farmlands and is quite excited to be part of the production. We soon run into trouble on the roads. The heavy rains have made the dirt roads into treacherous mud pits and the van skids alarming along with water and rice fields on either side of us. After a long thirty minutes of basically getting nowhere, I am frustrated and concerned that we will eat up our entire day trying to get to their family farm. We need to be back before the rains start again to film Leakhena’s interview. There is a lone boy in the rice field with a pair of cows, but he is a distance away. A little further up the road, a group of men are trying to repair it for travel. Another factor that weighs against us. We get out to try and capture the boy and the cows with the zoom lens. Neither Art nor myself are too thrilled with it but can see no other options.



Our seven am wake up call finds Nin and I ready to go, but there is no sign of the boys in the room next door. I rap on the door to see what the delay is and discover them watching a movie with Britney Daniel it in – the actress we met at the CCF who came to the dumps and relocation camps with us. What are the odds we’d find her on Cambodian television at the crack of dawn?
There isn’t a whole lot of options to eat in Battambang (fried cockroaches at the market notwithstanding) and our merry little band of doc filmmakers found ourselves back at the same restaurant from the day before planning the day’s shoot. Man, I thought it was hard keeping Theresa fed every three hours. My DP Art is always in the mood for a meal and such a typical guy. At lunch he eyed my fries, which looked so sketchy I didn’t plan on eating them. Art pulled the plate over, popped one in his mouth and announced, “these are horrible” he then drove this point home by continuing to eat the horrible fries. Can’t let good food go to waste.
We pile into the van for the short drive over to Leakhena’s pagoda. Leakhena runs into my arms and I give her a kiss. We are lead to her grandmother’s small room where she lives with four of her grandchildren. Despite the fact they are extremely poor, they present Art and I each with a large bag of oranges. I am touched that a family with so little would give so much. This is a precious gift. We ask permission of the family to have our cameras present. This is our first full day spending it with one of the main children of the documentary. Each of the four kids: Leakhena, Layseng, Meng Ly and Saroeurn were given journals back in March to write about their lives. Leakhena’s story is touching and tragic. Abandon by her mother to live at a pagoda with her grandmother, Leakhena was often lonely and the victim of abuse. Her words are more powerful than mine could ever be. She is the first of our “Small Voices” She writes of living with her grandmother, aunt and uncle:
“Constantly they didn’t get along that well, I saw them fight a lot. Sometimes they stabbed each other with pieces of glass, sometimes they drown each other in water, sometimes they chock one another and sometimes they beat me too….”
“Even though they hit me I would never be mad or anything because I think that we’re family, we depended on each other and suppose to help each other, count on each other and if we don’t help each other who else will?” more…