What starts as a genocide survivor’s dream to revive an ancient sport
Filmed over five years, it tells of the struggle of an older genocide survivor to resurrect the ancient Cambodian martial art of Bokator — virtually lost during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime — and preserve it for the nation’s youth.
Through this journey, the film gets to the very core of the generational fracture happening in Cambodian communities around the world today, between genocide survivors determined to revive and maintain traditional ways, and Cambodia’s youth looking to forge a new path forward.
How it all started…
While working in Cambodia on a martial arts segment for an experimental short film, director Mark Bochsler happened upon the story of Grandmaster Sean Kim SAN and his mission to rescue Cambodia’s ancient martial art of Bokator from extinction. Kim Sean referred to his mission as “surviving bokator” for the next generation.
Mark immediately felt compelled to document this burgeoning grassroots movement of restoring Cambodia’s culture. Bokator (which has its techniques carved on the walls of the Angkor temples), became a metaphor for Cambodian’s collective strength, which was taken from them during the 1970’s cultural cleansing by the Khmer Rouge, the regime systematically executing practitioners of traditional arts, among many others.
Upon embarking on this journey in the spring of 2010, Mark was unaware he would commit seven intense years to this project, having to face various challenges along the journey. But building deep relationships with the Bokator Family over the years has been a privilege — and being given access to tell this Cambodian story as a foreigner, an honour.
A Country On The Brink…
Surviving Bokator is an intimate personal narrative that also represents the broader story of a post-war nation struggling to rebuild its traditional identity. The film illustrates why culture is of paramount importance, both for individuals and for a society that has lost connection with its past.
People often associate war with loss of life and property, but the cultural implications are rarely examined. The death of an estimated 2.5 million Cambodians in the 1970’s by the fanatic Khmer Rouge included a large percentage of intellectuals, teachers and cultural leaders. The regime sought to eradicate all traditional Cambodian cultural knowledge including the martial arts. Those with knowledge of fighting were killed by the regime in order to suppress rebellion.
With this, the traditional passing down of skills and knowledge to the next generation came to an abrupt stop.
However, with determination and strength of spirit, Cambodia has been undergoing a cultural renaissance. This story is an inspiring catalyst for the change that we wish to see worldwide, the ability of a people to steer through adversity and to recover from devastating loss.