The Berlin Wall may have fallen almost 30 years ago, but nostalgia for East Germany lives on in the hearts of the thousands of Cambodians who took refuge in the communist state during the civil war of the 1980s.
“To them, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was some sort of paradise,” said Nico Mesterharm, director at Meta House, who grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain in West Berlin.
Kaoeun Kannika, 45, who was 16 when he went to Potsdam in 1985 to study car mechanics.
“My father owned an Opel car, so that made me want to go to Germany to learn car mechanics,” said Kannika, although the Opel was West German.
After Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoism was replaced by Soviet-inspired Marxist Leninism when Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Kannika’s options for studying abroad were limited to the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany.
“There was communism in Cambodia at that time, so they were the logical places to go,” Kannika said, adding that he was given no say in which country he ended up. The USSR was the least popular destination among Cambodians, he said, due to its harsh winters.
Kannika spent three years living in a Potsdam dormitory with other Cambodian students while receiving training at a vocational school. He said he took to both the language and culture quickly and found himself invited to family Christmas dinners and East Berlin nightclubs.
But the expatriates were constantly supervised by state handlers, ways but also to keep tabs on their movements.
Although Kannika received six months of language instruction upon arrival, he said it was through his new friends that he really learned the language.
“I learned [German] with my heart,” he said.
The East German official who oversaw the program was Walter Rudeck, the GDR’s former state secretary for vocational training. Rudeck, who was responsible for similar programs throughout Asia, said that the Cambodians took best to life in Germany.
Rudeck said: “The Cambodians I worked with called me ‘daddy’. They were also very open to make contact with the East German population – very different from the Vietnamese and Laotians, who would stick to each other more.”
Rudeck said he felt personally moved to help Cambodia when he first visited in 1980. With Phnom Penh in shambles in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge, which did not have diplomatic relations with East Germany, Rudeck said the city brought back childhood memories of the Second World War.
“I thought of postwar Germany when it was in ruins,” said the 80-year-old, who survived the 1945 British and American bombing of Dresden which claimed tens of thousands of lives.
He became fascinated by Cambodia’s East German connection when he discovered numerous German-speaking Cambodians upon moving to the Kingdom.
But despite growing up in West Berlin, which was surrounded on all sides by East German territory.
Upon returning to Cambodia in 1988, Kannika initially opened a garage but later discovered that his German-language skills were far more valuable. He returned to the unified Germany periodically throughout the 2000s, where he was trained by the Goethe-Institut to teach German.
Although Kannika said he loves and misses Germany, he has decided not to emigrate permanently. A miniscule community of around 150 Cambodians live in the Berlin area.
He said that he would rather share his passion for Germany with his students here in Phnom Penh, who may one day decide to follow in his footsteps and move to Germany.
“I want to live here to pass on the knowledge to future generations – this is my calling.”
1) Title: IN[visible] Borderline ( or Beyond Borderline or IN[visible] Zones)
Vietnamese interdisciplinary artist Tuan Mami and Cambodian film documentarian Sao Sopheak cooperate forthe first time in the framework of the art collaborative project (IN[visible] Borderline) to reflect on current Cambodian-Vietnamese relations which bases on research at border area from Vietnam( Vinh xuong, Chau Doc) and Cambodia ( Kaam Samnor, Khum K’am Samna) where these two countries are sharing land and Mekong river. By traveling and studying the history, cultures, and habits from people who are living there, these artists want to discover the commonness and differences of their contemporary life from these two so-called different races who sharing the same nature and long history to question the definition of Nationality, politicalization. Through the research, these artists will transform the sources and their collection from the places into fictional narratives and documentations to reveal the unseen or fragile stories and movements in a multi-media installation includes performative stories,photographs, video and objects.
Cambodia is known around the world for its enduring and rich dance traditions. 30-year old Chumvan Sodhachivy (known as “Belle”) is one of country’s foremost contemporary dancers and choreographers and dance teacher. However, creating a new style of dance in Cambodia, where older generations are hesitant to tamper with traditional culture, has not been easy. Female filmmaker Sao Sopheak follows Belle’s struggle for artistic and personal independence. The film was produced in a workshop under the guidance of German documentarian Enrique Sanzchez Lansch.
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!
ASIA-PACIFIC REGIONAL WOMEN’S HEARING ON GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE IN CONFLICT
A film by Sopheak SAO
In recent years, non-judicial truth-telling forums have taken place around the world. Often, these are in response to the inability or unwillingness of formal judicial mechanisms to deliver justice to survivors of gender-based crimes during armed conflict or under oppressive regimes. One example of such a forum was held on 10 and 11 October 2012 in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
The hearing was attended by participants from four countries: Bangladesh, East-Timor, Nepal and Cambodia. All countries went through periods of conflict with gross human rights violations affecting an extensive portion of the population. In the aftermath, each of them set up transitional justice mechanisms to deal with the crimes committed.
Only a very few of those mechanisms adequately addressed the gender-based violence that occurred during those conflicts.
Once Khai Ly (61) was married with children in Vietnam. Nowadays she is a Buddhist nun. She lives in Stung Meanchey pagoda in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh since 12 years. Because of her Vietnamese origin she faces discrimination by other Cambodian nuns. Sao Sopheak’s THE QUIET MOVEMENT is the first Cambodian documentary, which approaches a sensitive issue by investigating the realities in a Cambodian pagoda today.
The Cambodian Buddhist Sangha was virtually annihilated by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). Of some 65,000 monks, nuns and novices in the country in 1969-70, no more than 3,000 are believed by all available accounts to have survived. Since the late 1980s, the number of monks and novices has risen to more than 60,000 again. However, low numbers of teachers and quality of education for monks and, as a consequence, the generally poor discipline of the monks in Cambodia today remain one of the great socio-cultural problems of the country and its recovery as a moral community.
Khai Ly uses advanced meditation skills to overcome her disappointment. She wishes that the Cambodian Ministry of Cult and Religion intervenes and stops the unacceptable behavior of some monks.
A captivatingly courageous and touching film about a lesbian couple in Cambodia. The two women have known and loved each other since the time of the Khmer Rouge. The deep bond existing between them and their strength have helped them overcome all different kinds of resistance, including that of their families.
After almost 30 years of civil war and the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Traditional values and customs such as arranged marriages are upheld. Same-sex sexual activity is legal when it involves non-commercial acts between consenting adults in private. While traditional cultural mores tend to be tolerant in this area, even expressly providing support for people of an intermediate or third gender, LGBT rights legislation has not yet been enacted by the ruling government.
The short documentary TWO GIRLS AGAINST THE RAIN by Cambodian female filmmaker Sao Sopheak is the first locally produced documentary, which gives a voice to members of the lesbian community.
It is s true story about two women struggling hard for their love. Soth Yun and Sem Eang met during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, where more than two million people died. Soth and Sem survived. Today the couple lives in a village in Takeo province in southern Cambodia, approximately 40 kilometers away from the capital Phnom Penh. They do not have children of their own, but have raised several nieces and nephew. Theirs has been a long fight against stigmatization by fellow villagers and their family. And the fight continues – now for the right to marry legally.
Were premier at the Berlinale Panorama Film Festival in Berlin (Germany), February 2013:
– The 11th Zinegoak, International GLTB Film Festival, January, 2014 (Bibao, Spain)
– TIQFF (Taiwan Queer Film Festival), Taipei: September 24th to 28th and Kaohsiung: October 3rd to 5th.
Discrimination towards the LGBT community in Cambodia is not on the same publicly homophobic and violent scale as in other countries. This is linked to the country’s official religion, Buddhism, which is more tolerant of homosexuality. Our constitution guarantees all citizens rights, to enjoy those rights no matter what your sexual orientation.
While political figures have generally been tolerant of homosexuality, there have been some notable exceptions, for instance, when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly disowned his lesbian daughter. This also suggests a less tolerant environment. Homophobia is also particularly pronounced within the family. For lesbians, there is no mechanism for them to come out and express what they are suffering. They are also committing suicide or running away from home because they are being forced to marry. Cambodian society is generally tolerant of male homosexual behavior if it does not affect the traditional family structure. Women, who are expected to marry young and have children, are faced with more family pressures.
One critical way to combat homophobia in the family in Cambodia, particularly for lesbians, is to focus on helping LGBT members become economically independent. Everyone, like most Cambodians, is poverty challenged. People just want to be able to have a decent life, so they need decent work. One hugely effective way of getting family acceptance in Cambodia is to have a job, to be able to help your family very practically.
Currently I am developing the script for the first feature-length-documentary about Cambodia’s LGBT scene, with the working title QUEER CAMBODIA: SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW. I will continue to work with my two protagonists, whose niece has just given birth to a baby daughter, as well as follow the lives of a transgender prostitute-turned-street worker and a young queer activist. Their stories will be interwoven.
Those are words that for Cambodian people more than anything else symbolize the horror of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. Tuol Sleng was the prison where suspected traitors were brought for torturing before being shot at the Killing Fields.
No less than 16.000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng from 1975 until 1979. Only seven of them survived. The rest were brutally killed.
The short documentary Survivor was made in cooperation with the Norwegian editor and former Asia correspondent John Einar Sandvand. Survivor tells the story about Chum Mey, a previous mechanic who was one of only seven survivors of the Tuol Sleng prison.
In the twelve minute long video Chum Mey shows us the Tuol Sleng prison and tells in his own words how he was tortured and beaten.
The communist movement Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, ruled Cambodia from April 1975 until January 1979. It was one of the most brutal regimes the world has known in modern history and it is estimated that up to two million people – one fourth of the population – died during the Pol Pot years.
Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh was the biggest of many socalled security centers where suspected traitors of the Khmer Rouge were sent after being arrested. For days they were tortured until they agreed to write a detailed report of how they supposedly had worked against the regime. Almost all of them were then sent to Choeung Ek – better known as the Killing Fields – to be killed.
Why did Chum Mey survive?
Because of luck. The prison needed a mechanic. Chum Mey had the necessary experience. It was decided to let him stay alive to perform necessary reparations at the prison.
But Chum Mey also witnessed the killing of his wife and newborn child at the end of the Khmer Rouge period. And he had to live with the gruesome memories of the torture and pain in Tuol Sleng.
It is a story of meaningless torture and the darkest sides of human nature. I cried when I first heard him tell about how his nails were pulled out from his fingers and how he was given electric shocks through his ears.
This film was screened at Meta House in Phnom Penh in January 2011 with more than 200 people, including Chum Mey himself, present.