So our old landlord turned out to be a prick and wanted to keep all our security deposit, just because we decided to break the lease after 6 months as opposed to 11, which was the original agreement. But my wife had enough of the smell and the darkness of the house. Our bedroom was located next to a bathroom of an adjacent restaurant. And it was hardly contained. You can smell everything. You can hear everything. On top of that, we would find red ants on the bed and on our daughter's diaper tray. We had to get out as soon as we found a better place.
We kept the old house immaculate. We brought gifts to the landlord and her grand kids when I came back from Japan. It didn't matter. They were keeping every dime of the deposit. So if we were to stay till July 7th, which was when the new apartment would be ready, the landlord's son was going to charge us extra rent per diem. We said forget it. We'd be out at the end of June. Bye bye.
Then our new landlord also turned out to be a pain in the butt, for wanting to charge us rent from the beginning of July, when the previous renter had already paid the rent through July 8th!! Double dipping. No way Cambodian hustlers. So we said forget about it too. We'd move out of the old house at the end of June and wouldn't move in until the 8th of July. The gap was about a week. We'd be homeless during that time. "What should we do?" My wife and I discussed.
Then we decided to do something spontaneous. Let's go to Battambang! It's the second largest city in Cambodia about 6 hour drive from Phnom Penh. She had to do some interview/research anyway with her Muslim relatives. I had... well... nothing to do.
So I decided to try making a film while I was there.
And this city of Battambang, which is about an hour from the Thai border and also where my wife was born, turned out to be a little charming hub of artists. The city immediately disarmed us due to (it took a few days to realize this) lack of barbed wires on building walls. Phnom Penh is all spikes all over the city. It cuts your eyes just by looking at it, and the visual experience of those barbed wires do some weird things to your head. Battambang was much slower. I saw much fewer Lexuses (= less corruption). And fellow Khmer artists were much more willing to collaborate and help out.
I still had no idea what I'd do for the planned short film. Slacking off the entire week was also an attractive option. Then we were invited to Sammaki Gallery (facebook.com/pages/Sammaki/159502037437469) to do a presentation of Studio Revolt on Saturday and also to a Tea Party on Sunday. Darren Swallow, founder of Sammaki, introduced us to a few local artists on that Sunday and one of them was Cheat Sambath, who ended up playing the lead role, who happened to have time to do something with us on that week. I wasn't immediately convinced he was what I was looking for, but I began to entertain some ideas.
On Monday we met again at a coffee shop near the river and he told me more about himself. Sambath was a painter and he was also teaching painting to people who were recovering from drug addiction. I asked more about the drug issues. I knew it was mostly methamphetamine, which is called "yama" here. Sambath started telling me how rampant it was in his neighborhood. I asked if I could come and check out his hood. Sambath was very happy to bring me there. I was not all that comfortable, so I brought my wife's research assistant, Vanny Kong, as bodyguard and we used her uncle as moto driver.
Sambath's neighborhood was exactly how he described it. No alley was paved. Garbage was everywhere. In the middle of the hood was a slaughter house that let out streams of spillage mixed with animal excrement and blood to the neighboring area. There were prostitutes hanging out on the balcony in hammocks just outside his house next to an obnoxious karaoke bar, people gambling just next door, and people smoking "yama" in an abandoned hut behind his house. Of all this sighting of the unholy, the strangest thing I saw was Sambath's nonchalance about the entire situation. "That's the drug dealer," said he standing next to the drug dealer. "That's the prostitute," said he standing at their corner. "These people are smoking drug," said he as he stood by the doorless doorway of the drug den. It was like he was pointing out different flowers at a national park. He grew up there. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. "I hate it," said Sambath. "I want to move out soon." But he didn't have enough money. It amazed me as to how this young man kept his head straight in this environment.
So all this gave me some idea of what I should do, and I came up with the basic story line of Samnang's Bear.
The shooting was an awesome experience. I knew the general flow of the storyline but I only had Sambath. I added the "mother" character when we got there because she was there and she was Sambath's mother. Sambath brought in Sokthyna the "friend" character. Khmer people irk on his lines every time they watch the film but that's my fault. Pimp character, Sak, was a friend of Sambath's we ran into when we were doing the location scout. Sak is an MC and has his own local radio show. Pimp's henchmen, Chunnly and Dara are artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak (phareps.org). They were looking for us in the area at night when we were shooting because they wanted to see how I'd film a movie alone. And they showed up in a big bunch. It was awesome. I thought I was doing it alone, then suddenly I had my own gang. Then I got the idea to add them to the Pimp's scene. That was a great decision. The dude who looks like Manny Pacquiao is Chunnly. He is an animator. He's leaving for France this August to study animation there for three years. I'm really excited for him. The Lady Boy scene was made possible with three moto head light beams, which were provided by these volunteers who lifted up their vehicles onto the sidewalk.
So it was like this. I started that night just with me, Vanny, and Sambath. And by the end of the night I had 10 people crew/cast who popped out of nowhere. They followed us everywhere and helped out with what they could. It was nice to have that kind of crowd. It was fun and spontaneous. At the end of the night, I bought everyone ice cream. That was 50 cents each. I felt very special. Who would have thought you could make a film like that. You go in not knowing how it would work out, and you come out eating ice cream with ten new friends. Cambodia can be very generous sometimes.
Thanks Battambang artists!!
The original music was provided by Laurent Ziliani of Pear Up Media (pearupmedia.com). It's the same French dude who did original score for Instant Slapping and Yarning for Love. The Teddy bear was provided by Darren's daughter Padma. So Darren basically hooked me up with two leads. (Masahiro, 08/02/2011)
Samnang's Bear was produced by Studio Revolt - studio-revolt.com
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