Break In

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Mikel Aristregi

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Sergei Loznica, Tim Hetherington, Robert Frank, Alfonso Moral, Wong Kar-Wai,


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

My lack of experience made me suffer a lot, because I never had the certainty that I was doing things well. My low budget made me work alone, which means that I had to record the images, the audio, make the interviews, look after the equipment, etc. I could not pay a professional fixer, so I had to explain many times what I needed from them when we were working on the field.
Also getting the permission from government to record Pich in prison was an agony, having to travel to Spanish embassy in Thailand just to get one paper to bring it to the Cambodian Interior Ministry. And all for nothing, because finally I didn’t get the permission.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I would like to make awareness about how difficult it is for those children who are raised in the streets to leave their marginality life conditions when they grow up. I’ve realized that my pictures of the street children from Cambodia produce pity and shame on observer, but the ones about alcoholic adult people in Mongolia produce suspicion and, in some cases, rejection on the same observers. In our film we try to make connections between two periods of time of the same people just to show the continuation of a context of injustice.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

– Up to what point are condemned the lives of those who in their childhood had dramatic situations?
– The closing of the teenagers in a correctional facilities improve the lives of those?
– What should be the purpose of the NGOs working with children and what should they do when these children get to the age of leaving the center?


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

The situation of homeless people in Phnom Penh remains the same, which is dramatical. The unbeatable conditions under which the Cambodian government strengthens the foreigner investments are favoring the growth of the division between rich and poor people. The instability of the climate is pushing people from countryside, where the practicing of agriculture doesn’t give enough for living, to cities, where their lives get worse.
Specifically talking about Pich, he left prison while editing the film and got the protection of the director of the NGO named Our Home, the same one where Pich spent one year when he was 12. Unfortunately, the director, Mr. Hang Vibol, got in prison presumably under the false accusation of child abusing by a former co-founder of Aple NGO beside Mr. Vibol, Thierry Darnaudet. Paradoxically, this NGO was created to fight these kinds of crimes. Whatever the case may be, the connection with Pich is interrupted right now.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

-Make contact with Mith Samlanh, the biggest and most veteran organization in Cambodia working to protect the rights of the children.
-Make contact with Licadho NGO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, which has a special program for defending the rights of teenager and young prisoners in state’s jails.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):


What motivated you to make this film?

I really wanted to know about the children I had photographed 10 years before, find out what happened to them and point the attention to the hard living conditions they still have to face.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

I mainly worked in video as if I was taking pictures. I spent many times with the people who appear in the film, and waited until things happened. Just walk, talk, observe and be ready for any special moment to happen.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

As I said before, the most emotive moment that I lived in Cambodia was when I got the news from the phone that I had found Pich, the boy that I had photographed the most 10 years before. He was in prison, so I went there to meet him the next day. After we passed the checkpoints, the policemen told us to wait in a courtyard which was full of other visitors and prisoners. I was very nervous and a little bit afraid that I wouldn’t be able to recognize him. Imagine, I had met him when he was around 12; now he was 22. I was sad about seeing him under such bad conditions. Finally, I saw him from the distance walking to us… and just for the way he walked I knew that that guy was Pich.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

I’m basically a photographer, so I used the same equipment with which I usually work: Canon Mark III, a zoom lens 24-70mm (I tried to work just with 35 and 50 mm) and a lensbaby 50 mm (very few times).As a self-produced documentary film, I could not invest in a better and more suitable equipment.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

It fits very much with my original idea of what I imagined about the film. I recorded based in a kind of script that I wrote once I had found Pich and some of the other guys from my photographs. But when the time of putting it together arrived I realized that I wasn’t able to extract the best from that amount of images, and I had no idea about audio post, etc. So I contacted José Bautista and explained to him what it was all about. We talked for hours just because I wanted to be sure that he had got the point. It was, in fact, very easy to understand each other thanks to Jose’s sensibility and experience working with other great photographers. So we ended up directing the film together.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

I went to Phnom Penh with no idea if the children that I had photographed 10 years before, now become adults, were still there; I didn’t even know if they were alive. The most rewarding experience was every single meeting with those people that I had photographed before. And, above all, I literally cried with joy when a policeman from Phnom Penh’s prison told my friend that Pich, the protagonist of my story, was there; finally I had found the person that I was looking for.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Being this film my first video experience, I don’t see myself in the position of giving any advice to any one, except that just keep working, no matter how difficult the things may get, the people that we are talking about deserve.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Recording can be very stressful (at least if you work completely alone), but very gratifying too. The sensation that you are capturing a great document from different facets (informative, poetical, hard and beautiful, with the potential of transforming stereotypes) is really nice. It is also great when you see all the pieces together.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A notebook and a pen. Also some pictures of me; my family, my hometown, etc. As soon as you show them to other people, many walls fall down.



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