‘Wandering Souls’

Director-producer Aviva Ziegler’s feature documentary Wandering Souls will screen on SBS and at Australian and international film festivals following the world premiere last week at the Cambodia International Film Festival.

The film follows the mounting of a stage production, Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia, which premiered in Melbourne in 2017. The work was created in memory of the two million Cambodians who died at the hands of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

Wandering Souls also tells first-hand survival stories of those involved in the creation of the play and of the determination of Cambodians to reclaim an artistic heritage that disappeared during the four years of the reign of terror. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the regime’s overthrow.

Commissioned by the not-for-profit organization Cambodian Living Arts, the play was a first-time collaboration between Cambodian film director Rithy Panh and the country’s premier composer, Dr. Him Sophy. Both are childhood survivors of the regime, as are five of the eight traditional Cambodian musicians.

“Australians are well aware of the Vietnam War but have a hazy knowledge about the four years of terror perpetrated on the Cambodians by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge,” says producer Margaret Murphy, a former commissioning editor for SBS.

“Cambodian Living Arts gave us the rights to document the stage performance and have supported us throughout our production.”

The film is dedicated to the Cambodian-born, Australian-raised cinematographer Vanna Seang, who died soon after filming wrapped.

Panh, who was a producer on Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My father, said: “If you don’t talk, don’t examine it, it repeats, history repeats again and again. I can’t pretend that I didn’t live that history.

“There are people who can go forward without speaking about it, then there are people who need to speak about it. It’s a form of resistance.”

The documentary was financed by tax deductible donations through the Documentary Australia Foundation from friends and colleagues who either had a connection with Cambodia or felt it was a story that needed to be told.

It will premiere on SBS On Demand from July 1 plus two daytime screenings on free-to-air. A deal with an international sales agent is in negotiation.

World-renowned Australian director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, who was the director of staging, is one of the lead characters in the documentary.

Ziegler’s credits include the ABC’s Plumpton High Babies and the follow-up Plumpton High 10 Years On, the autobiographical What is a Jew to You? and Family Confidential.

Seang moved between corporate, music videos, shorts, feature films, documentaries and commercial television. He also produced and directed the short 1979, a drama based on his family’s journey fleeing Cambodia in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge.

After the world premiere at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, the play toured to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, Boston and Paris. It will be performed in Cambodia for the first time in November.

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