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Pin Phunam practicing her moves in the Siem Reap forest.​
Pin Phunam practicing her moves in the Siem Reap forest.​ PHOTO BY PETER PHOENG

Circus girl stars in Doco

Pin Phunam, a former trash picker who is now one of the stars of Phare, The Cambodian Circus, will be the subject of an hour-long documentary which is slated to be premiered in Boston on October 7 before travelling around international film festivals.

Directed by American filmmaker Lauren Shaw, the documentary, titled Angkor’s Children, will feature 23-year-old Phunam, along with two other young female Cambodian artists – Phoeun Sreypov, a singer of Buddhist poetry, and Vun Em from the protest group Messenger Band.

Shaw says the film is about, “Members of the generation after the Khmer Rouge regime that tragically killed 90 per cent of artists and intellectuals. Sreypov, Phunam, and Messenger Band have stepped out of the dark past of their parents by expressing the resiliency of Cambodia through their art and advocacy.

“They are pioneers, and are part of a global movement of women who are changing and inspiring the world. Angkor’s Children is a film of hope for post-conflict nations that are also seeking renewal through cultural and artistic expression.

“I wanted the world to know that Cambodia was much more than the killing fields. Through the arts, this new generation is reconnecting to its past and using art as way of healing. I knew I had to tell this story through film. It became a feature length documentary, Angkor’s Children.”

Documentary director Lauren Shaw and Pin Phunam.​
Documentary director Lauren Shaw and Pin Phunam.​ PHOTO SUPPLIED

She adds that Phunam’s story appealed because the young performer showed such determination and ambition.

“When we went to Phare Ponleu Selpak, we asked who the most promising student was,” Shaw says.

“Everyone agreed it was Phunam. She had exceptional talent, but more than that, she knew at a very early age who she was, where she came from and where she wanted to go.

“With Mr Deth, the artistic director of Phare Ponleu Selpak as her mentor, she has been able to construct a life as an artist, a role model, and the backbone of her family. I found this extraordinary, especially in a country that had suffered so much and lost so many artists and teachers.”

Insider wrote about Phunam in May 2013, when she enthused about her job as a circus performer and contortionist, telling our reporter Thik Kaliyann, “I love this job. I want to be the one who can be a part of helping the next generation and share my art's culture to the world.”

At one point in Shaw’s documentary, Phunam, who has been with Phare since she was seven years old, becomes emotional when she describes her difficult childhood and impoverished home life, but later says, “I’m so happy when I’m on stage. I’m not Phunam any more – I am the actress. I’m so proud of myself for going from a trash picker to a contortionist, a good contortionist.”

Phunam is returning to Cambodia after a French tour of Phare’s new show, Sokha, which opens in Siem Reap on September 6.

Phunam plays the lead role, Sokha, a girl who is “haunted by visions of the atrocities and destruction by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Civil War.”

Chief executive of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, Huot Dara says, “Amazing circus techniques and powerful visual arts, accompanied by live traditional and original Cambodian music, reveal the long term effects suffered by post-war victims while maintaining a strong sense of optimism and triumph of the human spirit.” ​

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