Logline: The riveting story of a transgender survivor in post-genocide Cambodia
Current Status: Currently in post-production, with a few scheduled re-shootings
Length: approx.. 70 min
Director: Sopheak Sao
Producer: Mark Eberle, Nico Mesterharm
Looking for: Co-Producer, Distributor, Sales agent
Funders: Partly Self-Funded, Sir-Film-A-Lot Film Prod., with additional fujnding by Heinrich Böll-Foundation
Why did you decide to make this film?
From an early age Cambodian Sou Sotheavy (born 1940) knew she was different from her 15 siblings. Though born a boy, she thought of herself as a girl. At the age of 14, her mother chased her out of her countryside home. Sotheavy sought refuge in the capital Phnom Penh, struggling to survive. She began offering herself for sex.
It was the start of a lifetime career in prostitution in one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by Pol Pot’s genocide and decades of civil war. Just for being different, Sotheavy was later imprisoned, tortured, raped, forcibly married, and constantly singled-out – until she found the strength to fight back in order to find her place within society. This incredible story of empowerment is told for the first time in SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW.
At the age of 75, Sotheavy – who is HIV-positive – is still prostituting herself. In the meantime, she has set up her own NGO, providing vital assistance to the new generation of sex workers. By telling Sotheavy’s rollercoaster life-story, I envision SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW as an absorbing and deeply moving human rights documentary, which draws attention to the plight of Cambodia’s LGBTI sex workers, and their incredible efforts to make a difference against all odds.
By focusing on Cambodia’s third gender, I – as one of the few Cambodian female filmmakers recalls my own personal struggle for independence and equality within a male-dominated society. This is why SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW is much more than a distant observation. It’s a personal film, dedicated to resilience, passion and persistence in fighting for a just cause.
Why is the film called Somewhere Under the Rainbow?
The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride and LGBT social movements. The colours reflect the diversity of the LGBT community. However, what my documentary celebrates is not simply LGBTI rights; it’s the human spirit. Despite the pain, sadness and emotional upheaval depicted, SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW is also a documentary filled with hope and passion, dignity and pride.
Why don’t we hear more Cambodian voices?
Cambodia’s thriving film industry of the 1960s was extinguished when the Khmer Rouge took power, in 1975. It enjoyed a resurgence of sorts in the 1980s and early 1990s - only to be demolished again by rising production costs, the availability of cheap DVD copies and widespread cinema closures.
Nowadays, unfavourable production conditions, non-availability of local funding, lack of trained crews and equipment are cited as the main obstacles by the few Cambodian documentarians. The almost non-existent enforcement of copyright and intellectual property laws further discourages investment in films. Up until now, there is no designated film school or university where Cambodians can learn how to produce or direct documentaries.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
From its inception on, my film project received an overall positive feedback, as Cambodia’s young LGBTi scene strives for being heard and seen; to document the life and times of one of its key figures, Sou Sotheavy, is of utmost importance and of high interest for local and international audiences alike.
In the following I like to quote a few comments that I received during a recent pitching session in Melbourne, Australia: “Very unexpected story.” (Joseph Maxwell/SBS); “I really like it!” (Leo Faber/Red Bull); “Congratulations - it was a great pitch and moving reel.” (Steve Bibb, ABC).
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
During the last three years of preproduction and production I have talked to many experts and insiders; moreover we have screened the rough cut assembly and the trailer to members of the LGBTi community and selected audience at the Cambodian art and media centre Meta House Phnom Penh (Cambodia), where I work as a project supervisor.
I have also presented my project at a number of workshops and pitching sessions in Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Australia. What was / is surprising to me is how little the outside world knows about Cambodia and its recent developments. Too often foreigners see only negative stories in the media.
When you only hear snippets and bad news, it creates a distorted image. As a Cambodian filmmaker I feel entitled to show to the world how my country transitions from stone-age communism to democracy and what it takes to overcome prejudices and stigma in one of South-East-Asia’s emerging nations.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
People from the industry know about my project and give me feedback.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
At the moment, we’ll need an additional budget of approximately 40,000 USD to complete production/post-production. In this regard, I am looking for dedicated co-producers, who realize the huge potential of my film project.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
My award-winning short film TWO GIRLS AGAINST THE RAIN pictured the struggle of a lesbian couple in the Cambodian countryside. Within a society already faced with ongoing human rights abuses in numerous areas, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals in the Kingdom of Cambodia continue to face challenges in achieving equality.
During my research, I also found out that donor countries spend millions of dollars in Cambodia fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic through health care, education and advocacy, but many of these services are shut off to sex workers, either formally through policy requirements or through stigma. Sotheavy: "Because we are sex workers, we are considered useless human beings."
Documentaries have an incredible power to raise awareness and create transformative changes in consciousness both at the personal and global levels.
Through my film work, I hope to raise awareness for the everyday struggles of members of these marginalized groups. I don’t want viewers to pity them, but to acknowledge their strength and resilience, as well as to promote tolerance and respect.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
How many times you have to die to stay alive and to make a difference in your community?