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'Best Short' Winner Greg Cahill

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

Expat Advisory Services talks with Greg Cahill, the proud recipient of Cambofest's Krabey Meas (Golden Water Buffalo) award for 'Best Short', which he won for 'Samleng Meas', The Golden Voice.
Can you tell us about your background in film prior to this particular feature?

I always wanted to be a filmmaker and I have to thank my sister Maureen for that, she's a big movie buff. By the time I was five or six I knew this was what I wanted to do. So I went to film school at NYU, where Jason (who runs this festival [Cambofest]) is a fellow alum. I made a short film there called Wolves of Chechnya about a Russian soldier in the Chechen war. Before that I had done a series of music videos and short projects. Little documentaries, mostly school related.

After school I moved to Los Angeles and I currently work for an NBC television show called Medium and I do behind-the-scenes features for their DVD and website. I'm also a Production Coordinator for the show.

The Golden Voice was something I did in my 'spare time', we shot it when we were between seasons at Medium. Cambofest was our second film festival, we were at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, and we just got some great news, we're going to be at the Woods Hole Film Festival and the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

This is our first award, it's now officially an 'award winning film', we're very excited about that.
What drew a Stateside filmmaker to Cambodia and the story of Ros Sereysothea?

It all started with the film City of Ghosts which came out about 5 years ago. I loved the film and it's really what got me interested in Cambodia. Particularly the music. I got the soundtrack to the film and the stuff that I loved the most was the Cambodian Oldies, the rock music from the 1960s and 1970s.

I'm a big music fan, I started listening to it over and over, especially her music (Ros Sereysothea). I was reading the liner notes of the soundtrack one day and read that she and the other musicians like Sin Sisamouth, Pen Ran were all killed by the Khmer Rouge, and I said 'Wow, this sounds like quite a story'. So I started doing some research. I live in LA and there's a big Cambodian community in Long Beach.

So I went down there and started interviewing people to learn more about this singer, and it turns out she was a real big phenomenon during the 60's and 70's - very popular, and still to this day. And she had this incredible life story. So I said to myself, "This is an untold story, this is a great story, let's do a film about her."
Your film was 25 minutes in length. How did you go about setting it up, organizing and casting it, working with two cultures?

We really lucked out with the Cambodian community in Long Beach. We put out an advertisement saying 'we're making a film about Ros Sereysothea and we need actors and actresses'. Within two days we had so many responses, so many people were interested. We found some great people like Sophea Pel (the lead actress) was fantastic as an actress and a singer. Narin Pot, who plays Chenda, also an amazing actress. The most striking thing is that none of these people had ever acted before. Not in a play, not in a movie, nothing. First time for everybody.

The other big challenge was locations. We're in LA, it's a pretty big city, it was a little difficult, but with some research we found some great places and everyone swears that we shot it here [in Cambodia] so that's a wonderful thing.

We spent one or two days [at the Botanic Gardens]. They have a whole section of this park that looks like a forest in Southeast Asia. So we were able to go in there and set up like a Khmer Rouge era labor camp with a bunch of background actors and pull it off. Our production designer, Pengchon Vann, he's from Long Beach and he's done a fantastic job at recreating the period.
How did you write the script, was it a collaborative effort?

The script was an interesting process because it was all based on research that we did with people that remembered her from the 60s and 70s. From there, I wrote the script in English, and then I had it translated by a guy named Pagnawath Khun in Long Beach. I was a little worried that the translation wouldn't be exact, but it turned out it was very good, and we had the actors go through it and polish up a few things.
So a lot of people were proofreading it and adding their two cents.

Narin was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, so she was able to put in those embellishments to the dialogue that were more accurate to the period. So it was a bit of a collaborative process but the writing was nowhere as difficult as I thought it would be.
What was the reaction at the first screening?
It was really good. I was a little worried we'd be screening the film for 10 people but it was a sold-out show of 400 people, we got a standing ovation. People really loved it, and I think people were really excited to see the story being told, this figure from the past being (sort of) resurrected on the screen. It was a great feeling for everybody.
What are the next steps for this story?

The current plan is to use the short film as a springboard to develop a full length movie about her life.

Our short film focuses on the last chapter of her life. We have a couple flashbacks to the 1970's, but her life story from childhood to death is fascinating throughout. I really want to tell that whole story. We are looking to come back and shoot a full length film in Cambodia.

The Golden Voice will screen again in Phnom Penh this weekend at the annual Nou Hach Literary Conference, where Greg Cahill and Matthew Caron will be keynote speakers. More information at www.nouhachjournal.net and www.thegoldenvoicemovie.com

Cambofest will return with a screening in Siem Reap later this year, updates at www.cambofest.com
- Interview by John Weeks, June 24, 2007

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