Director Reasey Mi (left) and camerawoman Chenda Sout review footage. Photo Supplied
A documentary filmed by high-school students in a village near Siem Reap is being screened in cities throughout the US this year.
Sunflowers of Srayang, produced by 17-year-old Reasey Mi and her classmates Chenda Sout and Nary Chun, documents the difficulties of being a female high school student in Koh Ker.
The Ponheary Ly Foundation is taking the 12-minute film to be shown in New York City, Baltimore, Washington DC, Austin, and Los Angeles.
The students produced the documentary under the auspices of documentary film-maker and educator, Diana Gross, who works with the Ponheary Ly Foundation to provide classes in digital media through her Global Citizen Media project.
“I‘ve been taking their computer classes beyond Microsoft Word and Excel, which are very important skills and very employable, but it doesn’t educate them about the internet, about how to harness the information that’s on the internet, how to process it, how to think critically,” Gross told The Insider.
“Then we get into creativity. It’s really digital arts. It uses critical thinking skills and writing and things that there may not be in the existing curriculums.”
Reasey had been shooting in Koh Ker with Gross for a previous project on Khmer New Year before deciding to return last August to produce another work. “The problem up there was the school was 10km from the village. To go to the lower secondary school, students have to go to the district school, so six villages all have to go to one school. It’s a distance and it’s not completely safe for girls to go that far on their own through the forest,” Gross said. The students shot seven hours of footage under the guidance of their teacher Sokha Khoun and Gross before taking it to the editing suite to put together as a film.
The film then premiered at the Angkor Wat International Film Festival at Sofitel Angkor on February 3.
“The screening went very well. It was standing room only. In the Q&A session afterwards the students, who one year ago would look at me and wouldn’t answer anything and wouldn’t try to speak English, stood with microphones and fielded questions from the audience. They’re starting to become aware and there’s a confidence that comes from that,” Gross said.
“The students were very proud at the Sofitel. They walked in, their parents came, friends from the village came. They were nervous but very proud. The Sofitel did a great job for them and their families.”
The film is just one of the success stories to come out of the film-making program.
Previous to this, students produced one documentary that earned them a $10,000 grant and another that led to a group from America fixing water-wells which had been installed in a village by a well-meaning NGO, but left to deteriorate and fail in the years after.
Sunflowers of Srayang is available on Youtube.