Socheata Poeuv received an unexpected gift on Christmas Day in 2002.
Her mother revealed the complete family history-a history shaped by Cambodia’s past and rarely talked about while Ms Poeuv was growing up in the US.
Her two older sisters, her mother revealed, were actually her cousins, children of her mother’s sister who died under the Khmer Rouge regime. Her brother, she found out, was actually her stepbrother from her mother’s previous marriage. She also found out that her parents were forced to marry by a Khmer Rouge leader.
After the shocking revelation, Ms Poeuv wanted to delve deeper into this new chapter of her personal history and chronicle in film her family’s journey back to Cambodia to visit family members left behind, her brother’s side of the family, and places significant to the family’s journey to the US.
That journey began in a refugee camp where Ms Poeuv was born on the Cambodian New Year, and it was that auspicious date and her family’s buried history that has led to her award-winning documentary, “New Year Baby.”
“We were allowed to speak more freely about the past [after the revelation]. My sisters were finally able to display a photo they had of their parents for the first time,” Ms Poeuv said in an interview on Monday ahead of this weekend’s premier in Phnom Penh of the Khmer-language version of the documentary.
Originally completed in 2006, Ms Poeuv said she wanted to create a Khmer version of the documentary to reach a greater Cambodian audience but the process took time as she had to find the resources and people to record and mix the sounds. It was finally complete in 2008.
“We didn’t want to limit our audience,” she said. “We thought about subtitles at first but there are Khmers that can’t read or read quick enough to keep up.”
At the screening of the documentary at Chenla Theatre on Monday evening, the audience was primarily young Cambodians and Ms Poeuv said she hoped the young adults would be inspired by the film to explore their country and family histories.
“I hope it opens up their curiosity to what happened and that they see and connect history to their lives today,” she said. “By telling the truth, it opens up the possibility for healing and my family is just one example.”
Ms Poeuv said her family was initially reluctant about her idea to document their story but in time she used this conflict as the center of the film and to add emotional meaning.
“I tried to make it as emotionally authentic as possible and focusing on my family allowed us to record a level of intimacy not found in the media,” she said.
After the completion of “New Year Baby,” Ms Poeuv, who is now a fellow at Yale University, launched Khmer Legacies, an organization dedicated to recording the stories of Cambodians affected by the Khmer Rouge.
Ms Poeuv hopes to build up a large archive of such testimonies that can be used as a teaching tool.
“In the US, the holocaust is taught because there is a lot of materials available but there isn’t that much available about Cambodia,” she said.
A free screening of the Khmer-language version of “New Year Baby” will be shown at the Flicks, Street 95, at 6:30 pm on Sunday followed by a showing of the English version at 8:30 pm.