A documentary feature length
Shot in Cambodia and Germany
Directed and shot by Sao Sopheak
Edited by Jana Teuchert
Produced by Marc Eberle and Nico Mesterharm
URGENT: I looking for Post-Production grant aprox. USD40,000.
My name’s Sopheak SAO from Cambodia, I am a director of the feature length documentary, SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW.
This is the story of a transgender sex worker in PP, named Sotheavy SOU, who was thrown out by her own family when she was 14 because of her sexuality, and became a sex-worker at 15.
Sotheavy is now 75 years old and has been living HIV-positive for more than 15 years. She is also possibly the only transgender survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide. After being raped, beaten and imprisoned, she is clearly still struggling with her trauma.
My film follows Sotheavy’s inspiring story, exploring her difficult past as well as her struggle to create a support network for sex workers in Cambodia.
However, this film is more than just an LGBTI story.
Please watch the trailer below!
As you have seen, I have been following my protagonist for more than three years. Her story, and to see how she faces her pain and trauma, fascinated me.
Sotheavy is the important key witness who filed a complaint against the Khmer Rouge in the ECCC International tribunal.
( Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia).
The ECCC is now trying a handful of former Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the genocide that killed 2 million Cambodians in the Pol Pot years, 1975-79.
And with Sotheavy today, my film also follows stories of the female and transgender sex workers she looks after, to show a new society in transition in which human rights and the rule of law are still very fragile.
In the end, we will understand how much Sotheavy has embraced modern society and how she advocates to help LGBTI in Cambodia. Moreover, she will demonstrate pushing the Government to draft the law of legally gay marriage.
For more than three years I have self funded this project, and now have support from the HBF German Foundation to fund the archive footage needed for the film.
I am now looking for completion funds for Post-production.
I am looking for a presale and we have a rough cut of the film available for your review.
I really believe that this film will be an absorbing and deeply moving documentary, which draws attention to Cambodia’s sex workers, and their incredible efforts to make a difference against all odds, through the remarkable life story of Sotheavy.
Director Sopheak Sao
Pre/Production Funded by
From an early age Cambodian Sou Sotheavy (born 1940) knew she was different from her 15 siblings. Though born a boy, she thought of herself as a girl. At the age of 14, her mother chased her out of her countryside home. Sotheavy sought refuge in the capital Phnom Penh, struggling to survive. She began offering herself for sex. It was the start of a lifetime career in prostitution in one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by Pol Pot’s genocide and decades of civil war.
Just for being different, Sotheavy was later imprisoned, tortured, raped, forcibly married, and constantly singled-out – until she found the strength to fight back in order to find her place within society. This incredible story of empowerment is told for the first time in SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW by Sao Sopheak. At the age of 74, Sotheavy – who is HIV-positive – is still prostituting herself. In the meantime, she has set up her own NGO, providing vital assistance to the new generation of sex workers.
Despite the pain, sadness and emotional upheaval depicted, SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW is also a documentary filled with hope and passion, dignity and pride. This February, Cambodia’s most prominent LGBTI activist will receive the “David Kato Award”, which recognizes leadership of those who strive for the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.
This all came at a certain price. Through in-depth Interviews and meetings with Sotheavy’s friends and enemies, SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW examines the foundation years of Cambodia’s young LGBTI rights’ movement, its early failures and recent successes, as well as its dependency on foreign donors with their own agendas.
In the new millennium, socio-economic change is bringing new opportunities and influences as foreign investment and development organizations link the country to the world. Yet Cambodian society is also struggling to regain a sense of national identity through a return to perceived traditional values in these post-conflict years. Perceptions of gender identity are closely linked to notions of “culture” and “tradition,” and resistance to changes in gender relations is often strong.
By focusing on Cambodia’s third gender, female filmmaker Sao Sopheak recalls “on-camera” her own personal struggle for independence and equality within a male-dominated society. This is why SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW is much more than a distant observation. It’s a personal film, dedicated to resilience, passion and persistence in fighting for a just cause.
Director’s Statement by Sao Sopheak
Phnom Penh, Cambodia: As the lights dim in the trendy bar, the gay anthem “I will survive” begins to play on the sound system, and the predominantly foreign crowd cheers for the first performer of the night. Tall, leggy and beautiful she delivers a moving rendition of the song, including a smattering of friendly flirtation with the spectators. They marvel at her beauty, as well as the fact that “she’s” not really a “she” in the traditional sense of the world.
This is what foreign tourists pay for– but it’s only a small part of the bigger picture. My documentary SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW “backstage” and far below, deep down into the capital’s underbelly. For the first time ever, I am accessing with my camera the hidden and sometimes shocking world of Cambodia’s third gender and male prostitutes, whose daily lives are neither glitzy nor glamorous. Some of these “ladies” are on drugs; others are robbing people on the streets. But then, there are others…
My main protagonist is Cambodia’s most prominent and “colorful” LGBTI activist Sou Sotheavy, who’s still a sex worker at the age of 75. In the course of the film, she will prove that “her expertise in “talking and touching’ has managed to support her throughout the tumultuous shifts in Cambodia’s recent history, By telling his rollercoaster life-story, I envision SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW as an absorbing and deeply moving human rights documentary, which draws attention to the plight of Cambodia’s LGBTI sex workers, and their incredible efforts to make a difference against all odds.
It is partly envisioned as participatory video. A group of sex workers is trained by professional local filmmakers including me to produce their own video clips, testimonials and “very short films” to be included in this film. Documentation of the training workshop is another integral part of my film. Another component is a cross-country journey, which I will undertake with Sotheavy to question existing norms, beliefs, stereotypes and misconceptions through interactions and interviews with fellow countryman and women, activists and politicians, sex workers and clients.
My award-winning short film TWO GIRLS AGAINST THE RAIN pictured the struggle of a lesbian couple in the Cambodian countryside. Within a society already faced with ongoing human rights abuses in numerous areas, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals in the Kingdom of Cambodia continue to face challenges in achieving equality. In February 2004, my late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk advocated for same-sex marriage. Sihanouk’s position conflicted with the acting Prime Minister Hun Sen who publicly disowned and disinherited his adoptive daughter in 2007, because she is a lesbian.
Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Cambodia when it involves non-commercial acts between consenting adults in private. While traditional cultural mores tend to be tolerant in this area, LGBTI rights legislation has not yet been enacted by the ruling government. The lack of anti-discrimination and anti-hate crime legislation means that those subjected to discrimination and violence have little legal recourse.
However, what my documentary celebrates is not simply LGBTI rights; it’s the human spirit. In 1999, when Sou Sotheavy – a seasoned trans-gender prostitute – began to realize that although many civil society organizations were being founded in the newly established setting of peace and stability none of them supported LGBTI people. “Discrimination against LGBTI and sex workers was simply ignored”. This is why Sotheavy, who is HIV-positive, joined the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU). She became internationally known in 2004, when this so-called “prosititutes’ union” won successfully against plans to conduct an “unethical test” on sex workers of the anti-retroviral drug called Tenofovir. A Cambodia grassroots NGO and its allies had fought off a big pharmaceutical player.
During my research, I fpund out that donor countries spend millions of dollars in Cambodia fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic through health care, education and advocacy, but many of these services are shut off to sex workers, either formally through policy requirements or through stigma. Sotheavy: “Because we are sex workers, we are considered useless human beings,” Within my film, I will find out, if the international community has failed to provide needed assistance to this vulnerable group.
Sotheavy pushes the key issues that affect sex workers most: discrimination violence and rape. “The biggest danger is gang rape,” Sotheavy says. “We are using condoms, but because of the gang rapes and the drunk men, we are powerless to protect ourselves.”
In the new millennium, the country struggles with its reputation as a haven for child sex offenders and sex tourists. However, prostitution is nothing new in Cambodia. The great Chinese traveller Chou Ta-Kuan, who was an emissary to the kingdom of Angkor, describes on his travels through Cambodia in the 13th century how women exchanged sex for silk. However, the events of the 20th century created a very unstable situation. During the rule of Pol Pot’s ultra-communist Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) prostitution was completely banned and punishable by death resulting in its virtual elimination in a highly authoritarian social system.
Sotheavy’s trans-gender sex-work singled her out for persecution and her effeminate behavior earned her a year in a Takeo prison. ”I was raped by Khmer Rouge prison chiefs and other soldiers and forced into an arranged marriage with a woman whom I had only 10 days with,” she said. In 2007, she filed the first complaint before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC) concerning sexual violence under Pol Pot’s rule. ”I am representing many trans-genders who suffered like me during the period, but most of them were already killed or died,” she said.
During the following 10-year occupation by neighboring Vietnam (1979-1989) commercial sex started to re-emerge. When the United Nations took control of the country in the early 1990s, Sotheavy’s job turned particularly lucrative. But while the influx of thousands of UNTAC soldiers increased the business prospects for sex workers, it also multiplied the risks of contracting HIV. In 1993 Sotheavy fell ill with what she thought was malaria, but a blood test confirmed she was HIV-positive. Then, she had no idea what treatments were available for AIDS or where to get them, so she resorted to traditional cures for her symptoms. Sotheavy in 2014: “Up until now I don’t take ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs] because my health is good.” She has numerous boyfriends. Not all of them make her happy. This brings me back to the beginning of the story. Maybe not even by coincidence, Gaynor’’s “I will survive” might express the level of resilience, which impresses me most about this project. Please help me to realize it.
Here’s a long teaser 7mins in below. Enjoy watching!