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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Refugee-Reuniting a Cambodian Family

In honor of Cambodian New Year, UMB’s Khmer Alliance Network and Asian American Studies program invited the UMB community to the Boston Premiere of “Refugee,” a new one-hour documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Spencer Nakasako. The film is ultimately about families, war, separation, and acceptance.

Friday, April 16 at noon in the Wheatley Student Lounge, the aroma of Asian cuisine filled the lounge and the line for food, delicious rice and noodles, went out the door. Once audience members were settled, it was time to listen to a remarkable story of three Cambodian-Americans who return to Cambodia to meet lost family members.

Special guests from California included Nakasako and the star of the documentary Mike Siv. Siv and his mother escaped to the United States during the 1979 invasion of Cambodia. At this time, the country was devastated by the war in Vietnam and in chaos from the bloody regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge are generally held to be responsible for the deaths of at least a million people during their rule. The group began as the Communist Party of Cambodia, founded in the early 1950s. In the 1970s the party adopted the name “Party of Democratic Kampuchea,” (“Kampuchea” being another name for Cambodia), but became commonly known by the French name Khmer Rouge.

Siv, accompanied by long-time friends Paul Meas and David Mark, decided to journey back to Cambodia to find the father and brother he was forced to leave behind when he fled. But once there he receives startling news about his relatives: his father has remarried and his brother was raised by his aunt. His father later tries to explain to Siv, “The war separated your Mom and I. We are still husband and wife.”

The reunion with his father and brother is a happy and intense moment. According to the synopsis of the film, “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…Mike Siv and his father live on opposite sides of a chasm wrought by emotion and history.”

Nakasako commented that the documentary was supposed to resemble the structure of “Goodfellas,” where a voiceover is heard throughout the film. The effect of Siv telling his story over the footage is powerful, giving the viewer an added layer of perception, showing Siv’s emotions.