Sunday, August 30, 2009

Director’s diary - Annie Goldson

Back from Cambodia nearly a week now. I think it was difficult for all of us to process what we saw and experienced. Working something like 11 x 12/13 hour days, we had to focus on what was in front of us, ensuring we stayed sensitive to our subjects, adhered to the schedule but remained open to unexpected storylines when they revealed themselves.

And then there is always the practical demands: changing and numbering tapes, charging batteries, making sure there was enough light, finding power sources and so on. The usual demands but in place that had felt like no other. Now the intense focus of production has elapsed I find Cambodia returns in my dreams, my psyche’s attempt to cope, after the fact, with the surreal horrors of Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.

Something most Cambodians have to deal with on a daily basis. That was what struck me – how many stories, untold stories, are out there waiting to be told and how many people we came across that told us of the nightmare that that had been their past. Memories made harder too, because of the lack of accountability for and acknowledgement of these crimes. The past hurts can only ever be very partially salved by the Court process, whatever its outcome.

Rob was amazing to work with, showing courage and dignity at every step. He has always had an ability to express strength of will, along with an extraordinary openness of emotion (often seen as contradictory). The Cambodians we spoke with were immensely grateful for his stand in Court: he was able to express things that perhaps they felt less able to.

There were optimistic moments while filming too, especially working with DC Cam and seeing the multi-dimensional work that they undertaking to try to address the past, from writing the first real history books, through conducting outreach programmes. to attempting to institute reconciliation between perpetrators and victims, plus much more.

There were fun times too, hanging out with Kulikar, our “translator/character” and Vothar, our great “slow and steady” driver who managed to negotiate us through extreme traffic with grace and care. And watching the spectacular display at the stadium in the early evening as forty competing aerobics teams, dancing to separate rhythms, strive for fitness. A soccer game goes on beneath them largely unnoticed while kites and balloons whirl overhead.

(Photo: Mark Servian)

No comments:

Post a Comment

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.