Cirque du Cambodia

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


Two Cambodian teenagers journey around the world to Montreal to pursue their dream of becoming the first Cambodians to perform with Cirque du Soleil.


In 2011, two teenagers from impoverished rural Cambodia set out to become the first Cambodians to join Cirque du Soleil when they are accepted to the prestigious National Circus School of Montreal. For six years, they rigorously train and overcome great obstacles in this underdog coming-of-age story.


Our film is a character-driven underdog story about talented young performers with spectacular skills. It also delves into important social issues such as income inequality, education, immigration, and child poverty. This mix of topics has led us to shoot the film with a wide range of techniques that blends traditional documentary practices with a more dynamic style that takes full advantage of recent filmmaking technology. More specifically, the visual nature of circus performance gives us a great way to represent Sopha and Dina’s arcs. As they become stronger and more confident in their abilities, in parallel with their social and emotional growth from teenagers to young men, they perform more daring and visually sensational stunts. As we watched them grow over seven years of filming, the range of shooting techniques we used also grew as we matured as filmmakers. We went from using high-end camcorders at the beginning to DSLRs, 4K drone cameras, and slow-motion cameras by the end. This progression of techniques and styles allows the audience to see the passage of time and gives Sopha and Dina’s quest an awe-inspiring grandeur that wows the audience and elevates their story. One of our drone shots, which we have placed in the first scene, soars high above an ancient, colossal statue of Buddha in the Cambodian countryside before descending to an eye-level view of Sopha arm-balancing on the steps in front of it. In other words, we see him honing his seemingly superhuman abilities in the shadow of the enlightened master who spent a lifetime achieving his own nirvana. We also chose to shoot them in locations such as Angkor Wat, Niagara Falls, and sites overlooking the skylines of Montreal, Toronto, and Bangkok, to establish a sense of the worldwide scale of their journey. At the same time, Sopha and Dina filmed their everyday lives using a GoPro camera, offering a raw intimacy that is juxtaposed with the more grandiose drone and DSLR footage. We have enjoyed open access to Cirque du Soleil’s facilities, coaches, choreographers, talent scouts and performers, giving us rare behind-the-scenes vérité of circus training, rehearsals and performances. We have also acquired key footage from Sopha and Dina’s friends and caretakers that shows them in everyday interactions that, when coupled with our interviews, provide the emotional core of their narrative.


Joel Gershon - Director

Joel Gershon got his start in journalism, working as a producer for the groundbreaking Air America Radio network. He recently returned to the U.S. after 12 years in Thailand, where he worked as a TV reporter and producer, magazine and newspaper writer, communications consultant for NGOs and private companies, and was a lecturer at three of Thailand’s leading universities. His work has aired on CNN and Current TV, and been screened at various film festivals. Joel is committed to making films and telling stories with a social justice angle using his vast experience as a foreign correspondent. His previous credits include Bhopal Lives (2009), Everything has its Time (2008), and Crystal Power (2008).


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