The making of: Cirque du Cambodia

It’s difficult to believe the unpredictable circumstances that producers go through in pursuit of their passion for a factual encounter. Joel Gershon, a New Yorker who ventured into Cambodia in search of a possible factual story got more out of it. The young journal, producer and lecturer eventually spent 5 years fi lming and producing poverty stricken kids who took up circus to stay clean from drugs and crimes. His tagline: ‘From the rice field to the big time’ was literally what they have done. Joel tells K. Dass his big screen ambition when the funding comes in.

The Story

An art school called Phare Ponleu Selpak, located in rural Cambodia along Battambang, conducts circus as a curriculum to at-risk youths in the local village. The youths are at-risk in terms of drugs, violence, prostitution and everything else due to extreme poverty. The kids are doing stuff that are superhuman in a certain way and these are children who normally work in a factory or in the rice fields without having any opportunity. I felt like there was a lot to cover with the whole backdrop of how the school actually started. To my surprise, there was a human angle to it. I heard about these two students (Sopha Nem and Dina Sok) from Battambang who got into the National Circus School of Montreal These two characters were fantastic and they were very approachable. Since 2011, I have been helping them to Skype to their parents in Cambodia and they saw me as a form of connection. I would show videos of their parents in Cambodia to them and bring videos of their training back home. I became their main link. Last year, for the first time in 5 years, I brought the students back to visit their parents. It was an emotional moment for both the parents and the boys as they have not shown physical affection for years.

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