Monday, June 8, 2009

Blessing day shoot NZ


Our first day’s filming in New Zealand went smoothly, beginning with our being blessed by Buddhist monks at the temple in Takanini. We headed off early to the outskirts of Auckland, where the suburbs blend into farmland. Behind what looked like a farmhouse was a large shed filled with colour, posters, ribbons, cloth — the beautiful burnt oranges and browns of Buddhism.  We filmed the preparation, the monks (who came from Laos, Tibet, Thailand as well as Cambodia), mounting flags along a concrete wall at the road frontage, then captured some shots of the Cambodian community drifting in, older women making food, children running around, friends chatting in the early morning light. It felt much like Cambodia although I tried to frame some of the Kiwi elements in shots, too — the landscape, our particular washing lines, Non Smoking signs and so on. One of the monks then oversaw the flag-raising -- the New Zealand and Cambodian flags mounted together. There was some haunting singing by the flag pole, during which it began raining which felt atmospheric. The actual blessing was amazing too, about 10 monks all lined up chanting and tossing water on us with slender sticks. The chanting is very mesmeric. Rob, James and I each spoke briefly, with our associate producer Chakara Lim translating skilfully. The community is very interested and incredibly supportive – some had travelled from Wellington for the event.



Amy Wang from Asia Down Under was filming too, a spot on the “making of” for the show – so people should look out for that. She interviewed us, but also Sarath Lim, the president of the Cambodian (Khmer) Community of New Zealand, a gracious and dignified man who underwent the trauma of living in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

We then took off for Piha Beach, where we filmed the “briny” which was doing its usual West Coast thing, wild waves, cascading skies etc. I want these shots as an “opener” to a sample I’m editing to help us with further fundraising. Although we have gotten good funding from NZOA and TV3 and in fact, many donations from the Cambodian community and others, this is an ambitious film as we will be travelling with a crew around Cambodia and in addition, we would like to use archives which can be expensive. I want to follow up our Hotdocs contacts with an example of what we have filmed thus far so will send them a sample as soon as I can.  The sea plays a bit part in our film – the Hamills, as children, swam, surfed and sailed around Whakatane and the Heads; Kerry was seized off his beloved boat, Foxy Lady; and Rob, of course, achieved the almost unachievable, rowing the Atlantic in 41 days. After getting some picturesque shots off the rocks, he headed for the warmth of Dave the soundperson’s house, where we did another “diary interview” with Rob, following up one we had done in the UK, and then we relocated to the couch, where he read through some of the so-called “confessions” extracted from his brother and John Dewhirst, the Englishman who suffered the same fate as Kerry. Understandably, Rob got pretty emotional and it can be difficult to keep filming at those times – one always feels so intrusive. The final scene of the day was my “replicating” one of the typed confessions – James had tracked down an old Remington and we finished up the day with me punching out “highlights”. Those Remingtons certainly have a different finger action to my MacBook Pro. So all in all, it was a pretty full day and I look forward to seeing Jake’s footage. Here are some stills from the day, filmed by a real “pro” Marcel.  





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About Brother Number One

“Brother Number One” was the name that Pol Pot, the leader of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia, gave himself. Kerry Hamill was also “brother number one” the oldest boy in the large Hamill family of Whakatane, New Zealand. In 1978, the lives of the two “brother number ones” collided.

Kerry Hamill was on board his charter yacht Foxy Lady with two other men when they anchored at Koh Tang Island to shelter from a storm. Unbeknownst to them they had entered Kampuchean waters, neither did they know of the horror story that was unfolding on the mainland. They had sailed from the hippie era of “love and freedom” into Year Zero. Along with Englishman John Dewhirst, Kerry was seized and tortured for two months at the Khmer Rouge slaughter house, Tuol Sleng (S21). After signing confessions that “admitted” CIA affiliations, they were executed on Pol Pot’s orders. A third companion Canadian Stuart Glass was shot and killed when the boat was captured. Some would say he was the lucky one.

Our documentary Brother Number One follows Kerry’s younger brother Rob Hamill, an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic rowing champion, as he travels to Cambodia. Rob will attempt to discover the most probable scenario surrounding the capture, incarceration, and murders of his brother and sailing companions. He will travel with Cambodian translator Chantou, a survivor of the killing fields who will tell her story in parallel with Rob’s. Together they will explore the devastating impact of Pol Pot’s maniacal ideology—which saw 2 million killed through execution, starvation and sheer hard work. The film will interweave the history of Cambodia with their journey. The former French colony was sucked into the Cold War; bombed illegally by Nixon and Kissinger; suffered four years of Khmer Rouge brutality; was invaded by the Vietnamese; then in a twist of realpolitik, saw the greatest war criminals since the Third Reich aided and abetted by China, the US and the Western powers. Many Cambodians today remain ignorant of their history, their lives marked by poverty, HIV, and violence.

Rob’s journey will culminate in a confrontation in court with Kaing Khek Iav, better known as Comrade Duch, former Commander at S-21, who gave the final orders for Kerry and John to be tortured and killed. Up to 14,000 Cambodians met the same end in the notorious prison. After 30 years of impunity, Duch and four former “Brothers” are currently standing trial for Crimes Against Humanity, homicide and torture in the Extraordinary Court of Cambodia, a war crimes tribunal that was finally established this year after a decade of international wrangling.

The film will be directed by award-winning filmmaker Annie Goldson (Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, An Island Calling) and produced by Pan Pacific Films.

Meet the Makers

Producer/Director: Annie Goldson is a filmmaker, whose award-winning feature documentaries – which include An Island Calling, Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, Sheilas: 28 Years On, Pacific Solution and Elgar’s Enigma – have received over 30 awards internationally at film festivals. They have also been broadcast on most major channels, including HBO, PBS, ABC, SBS, Channel 4 (UK), ARD and others. An Island Calling (2008), funded by TV3/NZOA with an SBS presale, recently won Best Documentary and Achievement in Camera at the Qantas Film and Television Awards. Annie was also a finalist in the Achievement in Directing category. The documentary subsequently won Best Documentary and Best Director at the Madrid Lesgai International Film Festival, and the Grand Prix at FIFO, the Oceania Festival in Tahiti. The film premiered at Hotdocs in Toronto and screened at a number of international festivals including Sydney, Melbourne, FIPA, Seattle, Frameline and Newfest. She is also a writer and academic and received her PhD from the University of Auckland where she teaches in the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies. Annie received the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2007 as recognition for services to film. As well as working on Brother Number One, she has a science series Mismatch: Why our world no longer fits our bodies in development for international broadcast.

Originating Producer: James Bellamy has worked in the film industry for over 24 years in a variety of roles, primarily as a documentary producer/director on award-winning documentary, arts and lifestyle series. He has completed three documentary features as an independent producer, which has involved him in extensive international production. He directed and produced Art in the Freezer to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Scott Base in Antarctica. The film was introduced on-air by Sir Edmund Hillary. Given this latter experience and his enthusiasm for longer-form documentary, James is now intending to dedicate himself to projects such as Brother Number One.

Key Documentary Subject/Producer: Rob Hamill rowed for New Zealand for 16 years winning World Championship Silver and Commonwealth Gold. He holds a world record on the indoor rowing machine and competed at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Rob is also a writer, publishing The Naked Rower, an account of how he and Phil Stubbs won the first trans-Atlantic Rowing Race in 41 days. Since his ocean adventure Rob has often considered tracing the wake left by his brother Kerry to discover what really happened in Cambodia. That time has come.