Longtime Carrollton resident Socheata Poeuv (pictured) was born 28 years ago in a refugee camp on Cambodian New Year, a day that is supposed to bring luck. As it turned out, her entire immediate family was blessed with fortune. They survived.
Now she has told her story in the documentary New Year Baby, airing Tuesday on KERA (Channel 13) as part of the Independent Lens series.
New Year Baby is a prime example of filmmaking as self-discovery. It started Christmas of 2002, when Ms. Poeuv’s parents called a family meeting in their Carrollton home and dropped a bombshell: Ms. Poeuv’s two sisters were in fact her cousins, and her brother was her half brother. Her parents had adopted the children of family members murdered by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, which killed one-quarter of the country’s population between 1975 and 1979. But Socheata, her parents and those she still considers her siblings lived to create a new life in Texas.
This knowledge only made Socheata want to learn more. So she persuaded her parents and her half brother to return to Cambodia for the documentary. They confronted old ghosts, loved ones and hard memories. When it was over, the filmmaker found herself more dedicated to her family than ever.
“It certainly deepened my respect and my love for my family and for my parents for what they went through,” she says by phone. “It’s given me another perspective on who I am, having known their story. Because of that I’ve found a sense of responsibility for the community, to do something that serves them.”
That something is Khmer Legacies, described by Ms. Poeuv as “an effort to document the Cambodian genocide through personal videotaped testimonies.”
“The idea is that the younger generations interview their parents about their life stories and their stories of survival,” she says. “The interviews will be part of an archive that can be used as an educational tool, whether it’s through museum exhibits or school curriculums or other films and documentaries.” Khmer Legacies is a nonprofit organization based at Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program.
“Because of the sacrifices my parents made, to have the kind of life where I just serve myself doesn’t seem like the best way to honor what they have done,” she says.
The film features some difficult moments for the parents, including visits to the labor camps where they once toiled and a confrontation with a former Khmer Rouge cadre. Ms. Poeuv wasn’t sure if they would like the film when it was finished. “I had this whole scheme worked out,” she says. “If my parents hated the film I would try to make it up to them by taking them on a cruise. That was always Plan B.”
No need. After New Year Baby showed at the 2007 AFI-Dallas International Film Festival, her parents received a standing ovation. “The audience kind of created a receiving line with people coming up to tell them how great they were,” Ms. Poeuv says. “It was that experience of having the audience affirm their life story that really transformed their relationship to their past.” New Year Baby