Sovanna has mourned for her brother and sister for 20 years, two among the two million killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.
Out of the blue, a letter arrives from Cambodia, claiming her siblings are still alive. The Cambodian-born girl turned Californian hipster, sets off on the journey of her life, a dangerous adventure to Southeast Asia in search of the truth and her family.
Such is the plot of Two Shadows, a film by director and Braintree native Greg Cahill and starring Sophea Pel, a Cambodian-American actress from Long Beach, California.
Two Shadows, hosted by the Lowell Film Collaborative, will be screened at the Boott Cotton Mill Event Center at 115 John St. at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday August 19, the day after the annual Southeast Asian Water Festival.
“I hope that people will walk away from this film feeling inspired,” Cahill says of his film that won the Audience Award as well as a cinematography award at this year’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.. “I want people to feel encouraged that compelling real-life stories can be told – stories which seldom receive attention from mainstream Hollywood.”
Cahill says he first became intrigued with Cambodia and the stories of its people after seeing City of Ghosts, a 2002 film starring and directed by Matt Dillon, the first Hollywood movie filmed in Cambodia post-genocide.
“I had never seen anything like it,” he says. “I became especially interested in the soundtrack, which featured Cambodian rock music from the 1970s. All of those musicians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge. I ended up directing a short film called The Golden Voice, which tells the story of Ros Sereysothea, one of the famous female singers from that time.”
Cahill says he is excited about showing the film in Lowell, home to the second largest Cambodian population in America. It is a story to which many of those immigrants can relate, as well as an opportunity for non-Cambodian Lowellians to better understand from where their neighbors came.
Eighty percent of the movie was filmed in Cambodia, a very personal experience for Pel, who herself lived with her family for many years in a Thai refugee camp before making it to the U.S. Her family was forced to leave her young brother behind in Cambodia because escape was too dangerous; they reunited 20 years later.
“Filming in Cambodia was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” says Cahill. “I would encourage people to go and see the place, and meet the people. There is far more to the country than just Pol Pot and the killing fields. The aftermath of the killing fields is another story which deserves to be told.”