Performers show disability is no barrier to grooving out in Epic Arts’ follow-up to its enormously popular Happy parody music video released last year
Decked out in a pink sports jacket, gold chains and slick shades, Po Sakun is the star of Epic Arts’ new tribute video, Uptown Funk. Showing real charisma, the 30-year-old grooves out in his wheelchair all around Kampot, along with a cast of brightly dressed disabled back-up dancers, joyfully miming along to Bruno Mars’s lyrics. His inability to walk hardly seems to hold him back.
The video is a follow-up to the disability arts NGO’s enormously popular Happy parody – one of about 2,000 made worldwide – which went viral a year ago and has been watched on YouTube more than 100,000 times since.
Uptown Funk could do even better, having already garnered more than 55,000 views since being uploaded last month.
“A number of people said we should do another, and it was a case of waiting for the right song and video,” said Anthony Evans, program development manager at Epic Arts Cambodia.
“The aim is always to challenge how people with disabilities are seen. This song worked well as it demonstrated that you can be in a wheelchair and still be a dancer, singer or viral movie star.
“The characters in the film look strong, attractive and successful, and we wanted to show that people who have disabilities can be all these things.”
Evans said the second video had received an “amazing” number of hits from young Cambodian people, much more than the first video.
“We worked a little harder on developing our Khmer audience, as the aim first and foremost is to change the perception of disability in Cambodia,” he said.
All the performers are students studying dance, drama and visual arts on Epic Arts’ two-year Inclusive Arts course. They will graduate in April.
“We have a new Inclusive Arts course starting in May for people both with and without disabilities,” Evans said.
Sakun started at Epic Arts in 2011 as an administration assistant before getting roped into the performance side of things.
He is now a member of Epic Arts Encounter, a group of hearing impaired, disabled and non-disabled performers that tours educational theatre and dance shows. His first show was Motor Motor in 2013 which encouraged people to wear helmets.
“As I was a person in a wheelchair, at first I found it hard to communicate with the other performers because most of them are deaf, and at that time I didn’t know much about sign language,” he said.
“However, I got more motivated to perform because I want to show that my goal and Epic Arts’ goal is the same – to encourage persons with disabilities. We want to show that disabled people can do anything like non-disabled people.”
Sakun and other members of the Epic Arts team have been to Thailand, Singapore and, at the end of 2014, to the UK.
Uptown Funk – which was partially funded by UNICEF – took a week to film, mostly in Kampot, with some footage also shot in Phnom Penh club Heart of Darkness.
“The Uptown Funk video performance was a bit difficult, because we had to learn and understand the lyrics,” Sakun said. “I also spent a couple of days learning some dance moves from our dance instructor.”
Sakun said that he used to suffer from discrimination and wished to change himself.
“My neighbour used to say to me: ‘Why do you go to school? No one will ever employ you.’ But working has made me stronger,” he said.
“Sometimes, even disabled people discriminate against other disabled people, so I am happy to do something as a whole team to show what we disabled people can really do.”
For more info about Epic Arts Cambodia visit epicarts.org.uk.
'A MODEL FOR OTHER PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES'
Kret Sok was seven years old when both his hands were blown off by a mine. He was playing with friends in a forest near his home in Kampot province when they found the explosive.
“I was filled with regret and so disappointed with myself after I suffered the accident,” he said. “I really wanted to give up everything at that time because I thought that my life was ended and I could not be useful.”
Now, 26, Sok has proven himself wrong in an inspiring story of determination over disability.
It started with him teaching himself how to ride a bicycle that allowed him to get to school 7km away and ultimately, with encouragement from his family and teachers, graduate from high school and then university with a degree in English literature.
“Since I was young, I wanted to be a teacher and I asked myself if I didn’t study, how can I become a teacher?” he said.
After volunteering with various organisations and working as a tour guide, Sok got a job with Epic Arts in 2012. He teaches students aged six to 12, mostly from scavenger families.
Last year Sok went to the UK with Epic Arts and gave motivational speeches at 11 schools, telling the children about his experiences and challenges.
“I think nowadays what I have done has shown my ability but not my disability,” he said. “I want to be a model for other people with disabilities.”
Sok’s goal now is to get a job as a teacher with the Ministry of Education.
“I asked to apply for teacher at the Ministry but they don’t give disabled person a chance to get in,” he said.
“Even though I failed my first application, I will continue to try my best to succeed at my goal. And even if I cannot pass the state teacher examination, I still continue my English class at Epic Arts and my hometown because the children there want and need to study,” Sok said.