IDFA WorldView winners Guillarme Suon and Lida Chan talk to WorldView about their project ‘Red Wedding’, and offer tips for filmmakers tackling similar subjects.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of your film?
Between 1975 and 1979, at least 250,000 Cambodian women were forced into marriages by the Khmer Rouge. Noces Rouges (Red Wedding) is the story of one of its victims, Pen Sochan, who pits her humanity against an ideology and a system designed to annihilate people like her.
Where did you find the idea and know that this could work as a visual story?
Noces Rouges emerged in 2010, when forced marriages under Pol Pot were recognized as crimes against humanity by the Khmer rouge tribunal. We wanted to humanise the story of forced marriages, to highlight the problem of justice, coming from the voices of victims themselves.
What does justice mean for survivors, when most of the perpetrators will never be punished for the committed crimes? What do they hope from the trial? What could be the reparation for forced marriage, rape or years of forced labour?
When we first met Sochan, we fell in love with her. We knew immediately that she could carry a film by herself. It was obvious that we would do more than just a film to document the story of forced marriage, we would film a person. We made very quickly a short shooting at her place, in the countryside. And we were all blown away. She was living in a former killing field, surrounded by Khmer Rouge former cadres, trying to survive while struggling with her memories. She really needed to talk about her story for her own sake, she was looking for a trigger to release her pain. It was enough for us to launch a film!
Why is this film important?
We would like Sochan’s story to raise awareness among those who had no idea of the existence of forced marriages under Pol Pot. Many people remain unaware of this practice by the Khmer Rouge. Forced marriage during the Democratic Kampuchea period remains a taboo that is still misunderstood in Cambodia. It is too often confused with arranged marriage that still takes place in the country. This film is a way for us to participate, all things considered, in the actions launched by the Khmer Rouge tribunal — to determine the truth and to make its determination public.
With Noces Rouges, we hope to continue our cinematographic and ethical approach to history because it contains a strong message: even if it comes late, justice may be restored in Cambodia.
What were the main obstacles in the production? How did you overcome them?
As many other production companies, the problem for us is to find funds for our films. There is no national support for filmmakers in Cambodia, so basically almost all of our funding is from abroad. We had to delay some of the shooting because we didn’t have the funds for it, and this can be complicated when you already start to film a character and when you are following a specific situation. So we had to write a lot of film proposals and wait for the answers… but I believe this is a global problem for most of the production companies based in countries like Cambodia.
Why is this film important for foreign audiences as well as inside your country?
I think that the vision of this film is different for a Cambodian audience than for audiences abroad. In Cambodia, the issue of forced marriage had never been discussed, it has been a taboo for more than 30 years. Sochan is one of the first people to explain openly what it was like to marry a Khmer Rouge soldier, what were her intimate sufferings… In Cambodia, we have shown this film to villagers, through test screenings in rural areas. They were really impressed by the story and by the strength of the character. I remember a young student telling us after the screening that his parents were forced into marriage as well, and that thanks to the film he had understood their pain. He wanted then to talk to them and to know more about his family story.
Outside of Cambodia, I think that the journey of the character might be more interesting than the historical context itself. There are a lot of details that are impossible to explain to a foreign audience, but the main point is how this victim tries to become a woman and a mother again. It’s a way back into humanity. And this story is universal as it is deeply human.
As directors, what advice and tips would you give to filmmakers about to tackle similar subjects?
I’d like to encourage filmmakers to believe in their stories. To never let go. We spend almost two years finishing the production of the film and it was quite a long journey. It’s never too late to make the film look better, it’s never over. At a certain point, we were kind of lost, drawn into our footage. Thanks to IDFAcademy and the Sundance Institute, we’ve found new ideas, new perspective, some fresh air. And we found the strength to finish strongly the film.
Anything else you would like to say about IDFA WorldView award and support for IDFA academy?
The IDFA WorldView award comes just before the official release of the film, so it’s very encouraging for filmmakers who have worked on their film for a long period as we did. Thanks to this award we are confident and really excited to release the film and to show it to the audience.
Read about the other IDFA WorldView winning project: Camera/Woman