A small film crew volunteering for the Cambodian Broadcasting Network followed six Swinburne carpentry students from Australia to Cambodia.
Interview with Director Jennifer Ross
Let’s back track a little. How did six Swinburne carpentry students end up in Cambodia?
Jon Wallace, head of the Built Environment Department at Swinburne University had a history of volunteer work based on his trade as a builder.
Twenty-five years ago Jon began work in commercial construction in Hong Kong, which eventually led him to India to help build a rehabilitation centre for people with leprosy. This experience at Daslarpally Rehabilitation Centre was Jon’s introduction to what could be achieved by contributing practical skills to a charity organisation. His association with Daslarpally has since spanned more than 2 decades.
Fast forward to 2013 with a conversation that took place between Jan Drew from The Global Student and Sonia Chan at Swinburne International about how to assist with building an arts centre in rural Cambodia. Due to Jon’s extensive experience travelling and working in Asia, the then manager of the Swinburne Built Environment Department was able to recommend Jon, who was at that stage employed as a carpentry teacher at Swinburne.
This experience beginning in India and leading up to Cambodia gave Jon the opportunity to establish Global Tradies at Swinburne.
And why were you filming them?
To develop my skills as a film maker I was volunteering for the Cambodian Broadcasting Network. Since the time of my commencement at CBN I had produced several of my own short films and music videos and had edited hours of footage for showreels and online corporate and promotional videos.
Originally, another CBN volunteer had met with Zoe Condliffe from Mayibuye Cambodia; an organisation that at that time was introducing arts programs in rural Cambodian schools. Through Jan Drew, Zoe met Jon and together they worked raising funds to build an arts centre/office space at Chumkriel Language School. Zoe was keen to have a film made to help raise the profile of Mayibuye, but in such a low budget production, it was more practical to focus on the builders and follow their journey.
Through this project, we hoped to show an audience how it’s possible to volunteer in a practical sense avoiding the “volunteerism” cliche. We were keen to promote genuine, sustainable organisations.
How did the experience change the Carpentry students?
Overall, the students witnessed firsthand that regardless of where they’re from, people have similar dreams and desires. As part of their travel, visiting S21 and The Killing Fields enabled the young men to learn about Cambodian history and develop empathy for people whose background is so very different from their own. Jon noticed that the Cambodian experience has given the students more empathy towards the Burmese refugees on campus.
How did the filming change your perception of yourself as a filmmaker?
Although I had worked with some of the crew on a previous project, the experience of filming in Cambodia made me aware that taking people out of their comfort zone to work in a different environment can amplify the pressures and issues of film making. I came to understand how important it is to build mutually respectful working relationships and not assume every crew member innately understands the definition and boundaries of their role in production.
It was unfortunate that the holiday environment of Cambodia was misconstrued, bleeding into to our working environment. It showed me the importance of working with people who are mature and experienced as I was made aware of by the distinct difference between the older, more experienced film crew, compared to the less experienced crew members.
You also work in drama. What are the similarities and differences between the documentary and drama genres?
To me the two genres are no different because the same challenge of uncovering a compelling story within a particular framework still exists. With A COMMON GOAL the challenge is complying with the agendas of each organisation involved without succumbing entirely to red tape. My aim is to present an overview of each entity in a real and relatable way, ultimately giving a message of hope.
You’re currently filming a documentary about the history of punk in Australia. We’d love to hear more.
In the early 1980s my brother played drums in Hardcore Punk band, Civil Dissident, who much to neighbours’ dismay, often practiced in his bedroom. Add the fact he rode a skateboard and you could pretty much describe him as being at odds with mainstream society; both of these scenes being misrepresented in the media back then.
At that time I was studying Drama and Music at Box Hill TAFE and was surrounded by creative young people as well, some of whom were gravitating to the seedy bars and underground music scene of St. Kilda, myself included. This was the beginning of the 2nd wave of punk in Australia: the Hardcore Punk scene.
Some of the bands are still touring and recording to this day and looking back 30 years I realised via social media that the community of people I came to know still had the sense of camaraderie that existed back then. Having banded together through a mutual love of the music, what is emerging from the interviews are stories of homelessness, isolation, family violence, mental illness and drug abuse, bashings for “being different” and police harassment.
Based on the punk ethos of rising up against injustice, some of the people I’ve interviewed have created not-for-profit projects to benefit their community, including helping disadvantaged kids and the homeless. I wish to shine a light on the struggles, friendships and achievements of this often misunderstood community via HARDCORE HISTORY - The Untold Story Of Australian Punk.
What type of feedback have you received so far about A COMMON GOAL?
Thanks to Australian carpenter Steven Jeffrey’s soliloquy, it is found to be a positive message encouraging other young people to contribute as he did with his fellow students, experiencing the third world from a different perspective, not just as a tourist.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
No, as this was my intention with this particular short piece (a prelude to the longform film). It was created to generate interest for post production funding which has been partially raised.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
I would like the film to inspire students to have similar experiences and show people how they can make a difference to someone else's life. This is evident not only with the Cambodian children at Chumkriel Language School and the benefit to the local community, but also to the Australians, particularly Steven Jeffrey being the recipient of a “Skills In Action” award as a result of his efforts in Cambodia.
It would be great to see the building industry get involved and help fund and support these types of projects.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Ideally, I’d like to obtain funding to get the film over the finish line. All the ground work is done and now I need to dedicate my time to tease a story from all the interviews and material I have. Another producer would be beneficial at this point.
My goal is to screen the film at festivals and generate interest through conversation about what is possible for sustainable development in third world Asian countries with the contribution of organisations such as Jon Wallace and his Swinburne Global Tradies.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
Ideally, after seeing A COMMON GOAL, an audience would think about what skills they have that can make a difference to people in less than ideal circumstances, whether that be in their own country or overseas. I would also like to encourage organisations to fund these types of projects and show that businesses can make a difference and further enhance their profile.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Is there value in the Australian government sponsoring students to travel and work in Asia? Do businesses see the importance of government policies on student mobility within Asia?
Students involved in this kind of volunteering start to think globally for business which will, in the long term, impact on how they go about their business or employment in the future. Ultimately it strengthens the connections between the business communities in different countries from the ground up.
Interview: April 2016
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A COMMON GOAL
Current Status: Short film as a prelude to a feature documentary.
Director: Jennifer Ross
Producer: Jennifer Ross
Looking for a producer
Looking for more post production funding.
Looking for media interest.
Funders so far: Cambodian Broadcasting Network, Liminal Lines Inc.
Made in association with: Cambodian Broadcasting Network.