Tuk-tuks: they are an everyday sight to millions living or traveling in Asia. But for Japanese fashion photographer turned budget filmmaker KM Lo, the humble vehicles are an inspiration for something more revolutionary: tuk-tuk cinema.
As a mobile film school by day and open air cinema by night, a tuk-tuk has been essential to self-described maverick Lo, who last week concluded an four-day workshop in Phnom Penh teaching young people to make films.
Using a rented tuk-tuk as his base, he taught local young people to make basic films – from Hong Kong-style action films to documentaries about their lives, as part of a project with French NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant.
In the evening he kitted the vehicle out with a projector and screened a documentary about his life and work.
The concept of “tuk-tuk cinema”, which Lo started in Cambodia and plans to take to Laos, Thailand and China next year, was launched with the intention of “inspiring young film students around the world to use minimal resources to express themselves”.
He is also in the process of making a documentary about his work.
“This is not a film about a road trip on a tuk-tuk, it’s about a filmmaker interacting with local people in the developing world,” Lo said.
“It is about a maverick filmmaker who uses fun and simple workshops to bring happiness, and let them learn a skill to improve their lives.”
He ditched a successful but “hollow” career in fashion photography 11 years ago and came to Cambodia as a volunteer on an IT training project.
Once there, he founded the Camp Film Society, a project which focuses on training young people in developing countries to make films.
He chose to set up his first training program in Cambodia because he found the country “one of the worst kingdoms that [he] has come across in Asia in terms of poverty.” He arrived there when the Kingdom could “barely function as a country,” he said.
He trained aspiring filmmakers and actors with the intention of helping them use arts to carve a career and raise themselves out of poverty.
He made his first feature film, Moto Thief, for $500, hiring his own trainees after they completed the course, as well as non-professional actors found on the street.
The film was shown in theatres in Cambodia as well as at international film festivals, including the Locarno Film Festival 2004. A second film, If God Will Send His Angels, was screened at Cinema d’Asie film festival in Vesoul, France.
“I grew up in a very, very poor neighbourhood. But my mother taught me to be minimal to overcome my limitations. Everyone starts from nothing. You have to do with what you have and make something out of it,” he said.
With workshops lined up in Myanmar and Cambodia in January, and in India in April, Lo’s transport might be humble – but his aspirations are far from it.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Ip at [email protected]