The Making Of
Socheata Poeuv talks about the conflict between being a good filmmaker and being a good daughter, the mysteries of her parents and her experiences creating Khmer Legacies.
What led you to make this film?
NEW YEAR BABY truly started as a “glorified home video.” My parents told me a family secret on Christmas day and the following year decided to bring my brother and me to Cambodia. I took it as an opportunity to finally piece together the story of how my family was formed and document it on video.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
As this was my first film, everything was a learning experience. Personal documentaries present a unique challenge. I, as the director, often experienced conflict between wanting to make a good film and wanting to be a good daughter. I decided to put that conflict up front in my film.
What made your parents decide to share their secret after so many years?
My mother claims that she planned to tell us 10 years earlier, but felt we were not ready. She continued to put if off and put it off until one Christmas day when we were all at home together.
Did you reach a point during filming where it seemed neither of them would open up about their pasts?
There were some mysteries that I thought they would never clarify for us—such as the mystery about how my parents met each other and eventually married. When I learned the truth, it really illuminated their relationship for me.
What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to?
Although editing a film can be a very painful experience of, as they say, “killing your children,” I didn’t have too much attachment to any scenes. I also knew that these edits were in the service of the film. While making the DVD extras, I didn’t want to include any outtakes. There’s a reason why we left them out!
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
We faced the technical challenge that most independent documentary films face—a lot to cover without a lot of time or money. I was told again and again by our production coordinator that when we arrived at these sites—the former labor camp or refugee camp—there would be nothing there to shoot but empty land. At first it seemed like a problem, but then I realized that the situation was emblematic of a larger phenomenon. The artifacts and memories of the Khmer Rouge time have been wiped clean.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
The audience consistently reacts very powerfully to the film. No matter what continent we’re on, people universally laugh and cry.
My family’s pride in the film has really grown. My parents have represented the film at several film festivals and enjoy being treated like stars when they do. I’m grateful that they’re finally getting the honor they deserve.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I love doing creative work through documentary film. It’s not always fun, but nothing is more rewarding than bringing an audience to a new emotional place through film. It’s an intimate, deep and very human experience.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
The first time I saw a young Cambodian American person on television was through a documentary film on P.O.V. on PBS. That moment taught me that someone like me could have their voice projected on a national stage. That stage is PBS and there’s really nothing else on television like it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A—interesting anecdotes regarding filming, a commonly asked question by audiences, etc.?
The experience in making NEW YEAR BABY inspired me to create Khmer Legacies. The mission of Khmer Legacies is to document the Cambodian genocide through personal videotaped testimonies. We’re doing this by having the younger generation interview their parents about their stories of survival. Check it out at www.khmerlegacies.org
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
We made a number of tactical mistakes while making this film. Almost all of them had to do with being a first-time filmmaker and the changes in technology. While we made the film, there was shift in independent documentaries from 30p to 24p and then to HD. But we always knew that it’s the story that’s important.