Program companion website, visit www.pbs.org/refugee
(San Francisco, CA) — For Mike Siv, the trip begins innocently enough. "Me and my homies, David and Paul, we're going to Cambodia. We'll see the sights, visit family, have some fun.” But after their journey, they will never be the same. These three young refugees, raised on the streets of San Francisco's tough Tenderloin district (a.k.a. the "T.L.”), head back to Cambodia for the first time in REFUGEE, a new documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Spencer Nakasako. REFUGEE will have its television premiere on Independent Lens on Tuesday, June 8, at 10pm (check local listings).
The film revolves around Michael "Adoe” Siv, a gregarious 24-year-old who moves easily between worlds — the street corner and the college campus; Cambodian and American cultures. He and his mother escaped to the U.S. during the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. It was a horrific time, with the country still devastated from the Vietnam War and in chaos from the bloody regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. To escape further bloodshed, Mike and his mom fled, leaving his dad and younger brother behind.
In his teenage years Mike flirted with street life in the Tenderloin, where he and his mother settled as refugees. Now enrolled in college, he has decided to return to Cambodia to meet his long-lost father and brother. Accompanied by long-time friends Paul Meas and David Mark, Mike sets off on a journey that takes him to a new Cambodia rising up from the killing fields, and into the blurred entanglements of his family's past.
The trip seems ordinary at first: a whirlwind of vaccines, passports, visas and buying gifts. However, even before the plane takes off, the journey takes an unexpected turn. Right before Mike's departure, his mother reveals some shocking news from Cambodia: his father is remarried, has another family and his younger brother Nang was raised by an aunt. Mike's vision of his family is shattered. As he puts it, "That's a whole lotta truth. I learned more about my family in that one hour than I heard in my whole life.” Shaken up, but still determined to carry on with his original plan, Mike boards the plane.
The reunion turns out to be a happy, yet strange moment. For the first time ever, Mike knows what it feels like to call someone "Dad” and to see the smile of recognition on his younger brother's face.
Knowing he only has a few precious days with his father, he tries to live in the moment and enjoy their time together. Yet he is haunted by questions from the past. What was the true reason the family was separated? What really happened at the Thai border the day Mike and his mother escaped? Is there a more painful truth underneath the facade?
Mike Siv and his father live on opposite sides of a chasm wrought by emotion and history. In between lies a quagmire of political upheaval, military invasion, years of being apart and living in different worlds. In REFUGEE, a simple reunion becomes a journey of discovery. It is a film about families, war, separation and ultimately, acceptance.
The program's interactive companion website www.pbs.org/refugee features detailed information about the film, including an interview with the filmmakers, cast and crew bios, as well as links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a "talkback” section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film and more.
The ITVS Community Connections Project (ITVS-CCP) is partnering with NAATA in undertaking a community engagement campaign Worlds Apart—Common Voices, which looks at Asian Pacific American stories that highlight differences and commonalities in cultures and communities. Through compelling personal stories and a broad-based community engagement campaign, Worlds Apart—Common Voices is designed to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue and encourage long-term partnerships for lasting social and educational impact. More information about the campaign is available at www.itvs.org/outreach/worldsapartcommonvoices.
REFUGEE is produced by Spencer Nakasako for the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Michael "Adoe” Siv was born in Phnom Penh and raised in the Tenderloin. Like many of the families in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, he and his mother fled the chaos and bloodshed of the Khmer Rouge in their native Cambodia. Siv met Nakasako while doing a workshop at the Vietnamese Youth Development Center. Currently, Mike is a recent graduate of San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Liberal Studies. His first documentary, Who I Became (co-directed with Aram Collier) was part of the MATTERS OF RACE series that premiered on PBS last year. The film follows the life of Ponnloeu Chia, a 21-year old Cambodian refugee on the brink of fatherhood and in the middle of Federal probation. The film premiered at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. When not studying or working on film projects, Siv spends his time coaching the Tenderloin youth basketball team The Little Bombers.
Sophal "Paul” Meas was born in a Thailand refugee camp on the border of Cambodia. His family immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. Paul, the middle child in a family of six, never finished high school. Presently, he works in a retail shoe store as a salesperson and is trying to get his GED. Every Wednesday, Meas can be found playing shooting guard on the basketball team The Little Bombers.
David Mark was born in New York City. His family came to the Tenderloin 1984. At 18 years old, he is trying to make it on his own, sharing an apartment with a friend from the T.L. He hopes to get back to school someday to earn his GED. Mark is the small forward for The Little Bombers.
Producer/Director: Spencer Nakasako
Editors: Aram Collier, Mike Siv
Executive Producers: Louella Lee & Glades Perreras
Principal Camera: Spencer Nakasako
Additional camera: Mike Siv, Sophal Meas, David Mark, Scott Tsuchitani & Michael Chin
Producer: Jannette Eng
Associate Producer: Scott Tsuchitani
Project Development: Julie Mackaman & Gail Waldron
About the Filmmakers
Spencer Nakasako (Director/Producer) Spencer Nakasako won a National Emmy Award for a.k.a. Don Bonus, the video diary of a Cambodian refugee teenager that aired on the PBS series P.O.V. and screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. Kelly Loves Tony, a video diary about an Iu Mien refugee teenage couple growing up too fast in Oakland, CA also aired on P.O.V. Nakasako wrote the screenplay and co-directed a feature film about Hong Kong, Life is Cheap…But Toilet Paper is Expensive, with Wayne Wang, and was one of the producers on School Colors, a documentary for Frontline about the 1994 graduating class at Berkeley High School. He produced and directed Monterey's Boat People, about the conflict between Vietnamese and local fishermen in his hometown of Monterey, CA, and Talking History, about the history of Asian women in the US. Both films received numerous awards and aired nationally on PBS. For the past fifteen years, Nakasako has been working in the Southeast Asian communities of San Francisco and Oakland, training at-risk refugee youth to make films about their own lives. In addition to teaching film in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley, he has also had artist-in-residencies at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Toronto.
Jannette Eng (Producer)
Jannette Eng has worked as associate producer for several San Francisco-based documentaries, including Respect for All, an educational series aimed at teaching school-aged kids tolerance for diversity from the Academy Award-winning Women's Educational Media and Race: The Power of an Illusion, a three-part PBS series that challenges commonly held notions about race. She has also served as consultant for various independent productions, including the Oscar-nominated Daughter from Danang. Prior to that, Eng was a production manager at the Independent Television Service (ITVS). She is a past recipient of the McKnight Screenwriting Fellowship through the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Aram Collier (Co-Editor)
Aram Collier first worked with Spencer Nakasako as a high school student in 1996 as part of a youth video workshop in the Tenderloin. The workshop resulted in Tenderloin Stories, a program of four short videos that won several youth video awards, was broadcast on public television and played at various festivals, including the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Taos Talking Pictures. Collier attended University of California at Santa Cruz where he graduated in 2001 with a B.A. in Film and Digital Media. Collier co-directed Who I Became (with Mike Siv) as part of the Matters of Race series that premiered on PBS last year.
About Independent Lens
Independent Lens is a weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. The acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history, which prompted Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker to write "Watching Independent Lens...is like going into an independent bookstore—you don't always find what you were looking for but you often find something you didn't even know you wanted.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach campaigns. Further information about the series is available at www.pbs.org/independent lens. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS, and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting www.itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. About PBS PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, the leading dot-org web site on the internet.
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