University of Auckland Media Release | 17 November 2011
Professor Annie Goldson from the Department of Film Television and Media Studies has been named Best Director Documentary at the AFTAs, the Aotearoa Film & Television Awards (formerly Qantas).
The award was for her film Brother Number One, a powerful documentary on the torture and murder of New Zealand yachtie Kerry Hamill by the Khmer Rouge in 1978. The film follows the journey of Kerry’s younger brother, Rob Hamill, who travels to Cambodia to retrace those fateful steps taken by his brother.
“We worked extremely hard to bring this film to the screen and it is an honour to receive recognition. Rob was a great character to work with and it was such an important story to tell,” Annie says.
The AFTAs recognise excellence in the New Zealand Film and Television industries and were presented at the Viaduct Events Centre on Saturday 12 November.
Brother Number One was launched at the New Zealand International Film Festival earlier this year. It was also selected for the Melbourne International Film Festival and will screen at the 24th International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam later this month. It is due for a general theatrical release at selected cinemas in March 2012.
The film involved Masters students from the University’s FTVMS department - graduates Melissa Kent (archivist), Creda Wilson (assistant editor), Kate Stevenson (publicity and outreach), as well as current Masters student and recent Fulbright scholar Ghazaleh Golbakhsh (director’s assistant).
Annie Goldson is well-known for her powerful films and has been producing and directing award-winning documentaries, docudramas and experimental film and video for 20 years. Her next projects include a documentary for Maori Television titled He Toki Huna; and a docudrama William Mariner and the Port au Prince, an early Pacific contact story based in Tonga. Annie is co-producing and co-directing the film with Rebecca Kelly. William Mariner received funding from the FRDF fund and also from the Screen Producer’s Association after it won Best Pitch for a new film.
Brother Number One was funded by TV3, NZ on Air, the New Zealand Film Commission with generous support from The University of Auckland Faculty of Arts research fund.
The New Zealand Film Festival has been a blast, and now is slowly drawing to a close (with Hamilton, Nelson & New Plymouth still to go). It has been fun traveling with the film, and it strikes me how different our cities are in New Zealand, quite different in feel, geography, character and architecture.
We managed to get marooned in Dunedin in the snow for an extra couple of days: magical, except we never left the Octagon and in Christchurch I managed to get in some disaster tourism (ferried around by the generous Nick Drake), and experienced my own vigorous aftershock. I also had quite a Wellington experience staying at the fabulous Museum Hotel. I walk in and there is Stephen Fry being interviewed (in town for The Hobbit) in front of the classic wearable arts ensemble – a suit of armour made of used teabags.
Audiences have been really appreciative of the film, and we have some received some heartfelt comments on Facebook. Our joke is that we should have gotten Kleenex as a sponsor. In Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch we opened the film with Cambodian dancers – dressed in their gold and silk, elegant and gracious. Not only did this add greatly to the feel of the film, but meant we also liaised closely with the local community in those cities. Chakara Lim, our associate producer, has been able to draw dancers together seemingly effortlessly up and down New Zealand although I know how hard he works behind the scenes. I think that the dancers really helped to get the word out and draw the Cambodian community to the film.
It is interesting to hear what people say in the Q and A, too. “Did you ever ask the Karma question of Duch?” is asked frequently, and many have asked Rob if he feels his journey, and the film, has helped him. Many thank him for his courage and emotional honesty.
Next is a short sweet theatrical so let’s hope we are coming to a theatre near you . . . more on that very soon!
I write with great sadness to tell you that Cambodian painter and S21 (Toul Sleng prison) survivor Mr Vann Nath died yesterday 5.9.11 aged 65.
Vann Nath is best known for his paintings depicting graphic scenes of torture and dehumanization that went on within the walls of S21. He also did two paintings for me. The first, on my request, was of a photo of my brother Kerry and his girlfriend Gail on board Foxy Lady. The second very poignant painting was produced on Nath’s insistence. It is an image of how he remembers seeing my brother being escorted into the prison by a young guard.
'People died one after another, and at about 10 to 11 pm the corpse would be removed, and we ate our meal next to the dead body and we did not care anyway because we were like animals,' he said. 'I lost my dignity.'
Mr Vann Nath was the first witness to take the stand in the trial of Duch. He told the court that he wanted 'something that is intangible: that is justice for those that already died.'
'I hope that by the end of the tribunal that justice can be tangible, can be seen by everybody,' he said.
Vann Nath had a unique way of dealing with the past horrors. In the few meetings I had with him he resonated calmness and dignity. Even when discussing the terrible treatment he experienced he did not openly display his anger. Vann Nath’s character is beautifully captured in probably the most poignant moment in Brother Number One.
My thoughts are the Vann family and the remaining known survivors of S21, Mr Chum May, Mr Bou Meng and Mr Norn Chanphal.
- Rob Hamill
So Brother Number One is finally completed and launched which has involved moments of apprehension, relief and excitement.
I often think of documentary filmmaking as sculpture. After months of chipping away at hard rock (230 +hours of footage) an amorphous lumpy shape emerges. This is then honed and polished and honed again and begins to look like a film. The process, though it has its pleasures, is simultaneously nerve-wracking and tedious; you don’t know if you even have a film until the shape emerges and it just takes such a long time, endless hours, to discover it. Then everything accelerates all of a sudden, small changes make heaps of difference, and you, or you and your editor, having worked in relatively solitary fashion, are now joined, budget permitting, by a wave of fresh creativity - musicians, composers, graphic designers, colour graders, sound designers and mixers, online editors and so on.
Towards the end of the film, the relationship of filmmaker to subject also shifts and becomes central to the process again, as it had been in production. I usually keep subjects away from the editing room until the assemble edit is semi-coherent, as it takes considerable experience and effort to sit through 4+ hours of rough sequences. But once it is at about say two and a half, I bring the subject in and discussions begin. I am always clear that editorial responsibility has to lie with the director as there needs to be a single shaping vision. But then I welcome comment and critique and am always prepared to discuss any issues and problems. Rob has been fantastic, making thoughtful and useful suggestions that we incorporate while at the same time, after some fairly vigorous debates, accepting scenes that James Brown, the editor and I, were reluctant to change.
For once, I finished the film well in time, two weeks before its premiere screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland. We had gotten very strong reviews so ticket sales were great, in fact, our premiere was sold out – 800 seats filled and the follow up screening on the less premium time of 3.30 on a weekday afternoon also sold well. The film has an interesting composite of niche audiences: there is a general audience of course, but there are also those from the rowing community, the Cambodian community which is Auckland is sizable, people interested in human rights issues, those from the anti-Vietnam activist days, backpackers and Kiwi travellers who have visited Cambodia, Buddhists, and a range of students interested in Asia studies, history, and so on.
We decided to introduce the film with some performances, so Chakara Lim got busy corralling dancers. They were brilliant and for them, it was a great opportunity too, as performing at Sky City which has a good stage in front of a full house extended their reach beyond the community venues they are more used to performing. We surprised everyone by starting with hip-hop crew Infamous Noodles, five lovely boys who donned the “universal” garb of the dance, managed the athletic moves and finished with that lovely Cambodian gesture of hands in prayer. Then five women, performing a local variant of the Cambodian classical ballet, a Wishing Dance – poignant given that this dance, so loved and admired by the French colonials, was stamped out by the Khmer Rouge for its “decadence”. Then a Peacock Dance, a highly costumed “mating ritual” type of performance with a single pair of dancers circled each other balancing their shimmering green tails.
So a great launch and a warm response.
Then was off to Melbourne, which was also a wonderful screening, our “international premiere”. It is such a great and bustling city: whereas Auckland is really a series of villages and the “action” in often in the suburbs, Melbourne is hugely lively with fabulous restaurants reflecting its cultural mix.
Rob, and Rachel his wife and I arrived together and met Gail Colley, who had been Kerry’s girlfriend at the time of his capture. She is an important presence in the film, but had yet to see it, so I was apprehensive about how she may be affected. We were whisked off to a festival dinner which are always fun. Lots of international filmmakers always – an English funder, a Korean short filmmaker and a relatively “big-name” indie American director sitting with me. The meals are always something of a relay race, as filmmakers and their handlers are taken off for introductions, raced back for a meal, then off again for a Q and A. The restaurants learn what to do, ie constant stream of small tapas type platters as no one ever has time to eat a proper meal.
Rob and I spent the whole of Friday doing interviews – the media again were very responsive and I was impressed with the degree of homework they had done. Live radio on the ABC’s flagship show first, which is always slightly nerve-wracking, then a series of smaller stations, magazines and the Melbourne Age. Rob has found he has had several “breakthroughs” this trip, for example, being able to express aspects of his story without being overcome emotionally. He is not sure what this means, but thinks it represents some progress in the grieving process not towards “closure”, that word that doesn’t make much sense to me, but perhaps in the direction of making memory and the past more bearable to contemplate.
Again, there was pretty much a sold-out audience at the Greater Union 6, a bustling multiplex and again, a very warm and responsive audience. We had pondered whether Australians would understand some of the New Zealand references for example in Kerry’s “confession” – everyone laughed, painfully, at his suggestion that Colonel Sanders had been his CIA instructor, but the suggestion that the CIA had offices in Whangarei, Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim, Wanganui, Whakatane, Gisbourne, Taupo and Westport (which is so tiny) also caused some amusement. The sense of his courage and desire to communicate beyond that dark hole seemed to make sense still. Remarkable document.
We travel to Wellington next for another leg of the New Zealand Film Festival, so will report on that trip soon. Meanwhile submissions to the international festivals continue with some positive signs emerging here and there.
A message from Rob sent from the coalface at Park Road Post:
21 June 2011:
So Peter Jackson (we fondly refer to him as PJ) didn't front today but sent his apologies and love (well, I'm sure he would have had he know we were there!) What an amazing facility. Spent the day going over the sound edit, making sure music not over powering voice overs, narrations etc. The film looks amazing on the big screen and sounds terrific in the theartre setting. Annie Goldson and Peter Gilbert doing great work.
22 June 2011:
Back at the coal face at Park Road Post (PJ sure to make an appearance anytime soon) and currently watching on film Meas Muth, the former chief of the Khmer Rouge navy. He's the man who had the power to release my brother immediately following his capture. Seeing this man on the screen makes my blood boil.
Heading for the home stretch now, working with composers and graphic designers - there is some great talent and goodwill here in Aotearoa New Zealand so we will be going into our online and soundmix in pretty good shape in mid-June.
Also, good news - Rob did a half hour interview with the BBC World Service's programme Outlook which has a listenership of 40 million. The interview played on the 7 June 2011 and you can listen to the podcast here.
Often they divvy up the 30 minutes and run various interviews, but Rob's was so strong they are running it as a full half hour. There will be some audio excerpts of the film included.
Now the edit is in its final stages we're thinking about some of the great out-takes and new content we can put online. Brother Number One has already been invited to some great festivals (most of which are still embargoed) but hopefully it will find its place in the world.
Nearing the close of the edit when it gets to be fun, working with composers and graphic designers. As I’ve said editing is like hewing wood, finally the shape begins to emerge and then change happens quickly. Seeing what archive I have to have and what I can afford (at USD125 a second!). As always, great bits are left out, hit the proverbial cutting room floor – so many beautiful images that we will have to create a serious DVD extras bank.
This is one of my favourites: by chance, we were told that on Friday nights Cambodians gather to do collective aerobics, in the very stadium that Pol Pot and his central committee strolled around in some famous archive (that I can’t afford). A spectacular display as forty competing aerobics team strive for fitness, each team dancing to their own tune. The football game goes on beneath largely unnoticed, the food stalls hum, spatter and buzz and kites and balloons whirl overhead into the darkening sky.
Recent events surrounding the United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) have motivated Olympic and trans-Atlantic rower Rob Hamill’s call for diasporas and expat Cambodians to apply for Civil Party status at the court.
“I am deeply concerned about overt political influence and the recent announcement by the two Co-Investigating Judges (CIJs) to close investigations into case 003. This means that any victims who wish to file complaints to the court for this case must to do so by 18 May 2011.”
Even though the ECCC has not yet disclosed the names of the persons under investigation, on 8 April 2011, exactly one month ago, Hamill became the second person (after Khmer Rouge survivor Theary Seng) to apply to become a Civil Party in Cases 003 and 004 against the five individuals believed to be under investigation by the ECCC Office of the CIJ’s, in particular against military commanders Mr Meas Muth and Mr Sou Met who commanded the Khmer Rouge Navy and Air Force respectively.
Hamill claims these two individuals committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including forced transfer, imprisonment (including severe deprivation of physical liberty), enslavement, torture, murder, and other inhumane acts. Rob Hamill’s brother Kerry was abducted by the Khmer Rouge navy in 1978 when his yacht strayed into Cambodian waters. He was taken prisoner at Toul Sleng prison in Phnom Penh where he was tortured and murdered.
“Rather than ramp up the investigations on behalf of the millions of victims and despite a mountain of evidence it seems the CIJs’ response to our applications is to cease any further enquiries into the heinous crimes these people committed," says Hamill. “It makes me wonder how much political influence is being wielded in Cambodia and what do the court’s funders’ think of the situation.”
With the deadline looming in less than 10 days time Hamill is concerned people are not aware of their rights and the opportunity that exists. “It should be the court’s obligation to inform victims about the deadline from the date of closing investigations,” said Hamill, “However, since it is not, this announcement hopes to raise the message for victims who want to put applications in for cases 003 and 004. If ever there was a time for the expat Cambodian community to speak up then this is it,” said Hamill. “Whether you live in Hamilton, New Zealand or London, New York, or Paris, now is the time to make contact with the court in Cambodia and be heard.”
The Victim Support Section (http://www.eccc.gov.kh/en/victims-support) is the body within the court that receives and processes victims’ application forms.
Between 1975 and 1979 more than 1,700,000 people were murdered, starved or worked to death under the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime, yet only one man has stood trial for the atrocities. On the 26th of July 2010, Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his crimes as commandant of S-21 (aka Tuol Sleng), the Phnom Penh prison where approximately 14,000 people were tortured and murdered.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is close to beginning the trial of four of the other high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders. However, investigations into a third trial for five additional suspects are currently in limbo, largely due to overt political interference and UN lethargy.
On Friday, the 8th of April 2011, Rob Hamill lodged a civil party application against Khmer Rouge commanders Meas Muth and Sou Met, two of five individuals believed to be under investigation. Rob’s is the second civil suit submitted to the ECCC, the first being from Cambodian human rights activist and Khmer Rouge survivor, Theary Seng (www.thearyseng.com).
“I am doing this to remind the UN and its member countries that justice has not yet been served,” says Rob. “Just what is the magic number to cease further proceedings? Among the hundreds, if not thousands of killers, trying five is not enough, and pushing for an additional five prosecutions is not unreasonable. It’s akin to halting the Nuremburg Trials after only a few convictions. The world would not have accepted that outcome, yet now the victims of these heinous and incomprehensible atrocities are expected to accept one conviction (Duch), and a trial pending for four others, knowing that at least five more culpable cadres remain un- charged.”
Rob said he is also submitting his application to support Theary Seng’s one. “She is a very brave woman who deserves to be heard above the deafening silence.”
Rob is holding Meas and Sou personally, individually, criminally responsible for the death of his brother Kerry. Particular emphasis is given to Meas, commander of the Khmer Rouge navy, which captured of Kerry, moored off Koh Tang Island, on the 13th of August 1978. Kerry was tortured, forced confess that he was a CIA operative, then executed.
“One of my concerns lays in the fact that the cases against Meas and Sou appear to be dormant, or will be dropped. This is not good enough. It harks back to the cold war politics of the time, when many countries still recognised Khmer Rouge leadership at the UN. This included New Zealand. My father, Miles, wrote many letters, petitioning our government. In one, he wrote, Mr Muldoon Sir, if you can faintly understand the shock and grief I and my family are suffering over this ghastly affair, then you will surely do all in your power as the Head of New Zealand’s governing body to investigate my son’s death. Why has New Zealand ever recognised the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea? To recognise them must surely condone their actions as a Government?
“The recognition of the Khmer Rouge’s leadership was politically driven and was totally unacceptable to my father,” says Rob. “If the ECCC drops the cases against Meas and Sou, this will be equally unacceptable.
“The family members of Khmer Rouge victims are not alone in their grief and suffering. I am not a Cambodian national, but I am a victim of its politics. I hope this application motivates others to stand up and say what needs to be said. All former Khmer Rouge leaders under investigation must stand trial, and be exposed for the part they played in the death of 1,700,000 people.”
Peter Gilbert, our DOP and all round great guy, is over here from Chicago helping us with the final push of the rough cut, which is starting to get fun despite the tough nature of the subject matter. We are all crowded - James Brown, the editor (plus Darwin his beagle much to my cat Cleo's horror) into my son's old bedroom, now the editing suite with its trusty and grunty MacPro. Rob is just back from Cambodia where he attended Comrade Duch’s appeal, and he and his wife Rachel came and sat through the edit as it stands. Was great – very few problems or changes and I know it is hard to see your own story, and such a personal and painful one, on the screen. The hard work of extracting and shaping the story recedes and you start to have fun really working the sound and image, and music of course which will be great – Jack Body, Chinary Ung, Sophy Him, NZ Trio, the Soundroom – quite an ensemble!