Family Footstepts, an emmersive documentary series, takes Australians to live the lives they might have led, if their parents had not migrated to Australia. Providing a sliding doors experience participation immerse themselves in the work, family and cultural situations they most likely would be living now, if their family had remained in their country of origin.
Kevin (right), whose parents fled the killing fields of Cambodia, returns to Cambodia in order to experience the life in his parents homeland.
Kevin Taing grew up in Sydney helping out at his father’s bakery, eating meat pies, sausage rolls, going to the beach and watching football. His Cambodian heritage was something he took little interest in. Haunted by stories of his parents’ flight from the atrocities of Pol Pot and the superstitions of traditional Cambodian life, Kevin turned his back on Khmer culture and became an Australian.
Now 28, Kevin has his life planned out. A comfortable job in a leading bank, a young wife, and a big house in Sydney’s outer suburbs with plenty of space for his music room where he spends his free time playing guitar – when he is not involved in church activities.
But Kevin’s world is thrown upside down when he takes up the challenge to visit Cambodia, the land of his fears. His mother tries to dissuade him with dire warnings about what might be in store for him. Filled with trepidation Kevin arrives in Phnom Penh.
He makes his way to the village of Chhlong where he meets his mentor Rhit, a Cambodian teacher who is, like Kevin, in his late 20s and newly married. Kevin is welcomed into Rhit’s family house. Here he will share Rhit’s room and the double bed, the only sleeping space available.
Kevin is to work with Rhit in the local ice factory delivering ice just as his grandfather did many years earlier. The ice factory is primitive and the work is hard. Rhit and Kevin work side by side delivering ice to local fish sellers, shops, schools and homes, none of which have refrigeration.
It is the fourth day when things take a very dramatic turn. Kevin is due back at the ice factory in the morning, but in the middle of the night he sends a text to the production team, saying he’s overheard a conversation where his hosts and their friends are planning to kidnap him. For Kevin his mother’s warnings seem to have come true.
Kevin is taken to a comfortable western style hotel where after a few days rest he is finally lured out of his room by the strains of a stringed instrument. In the hotel foyer he meets a local musician who offers to teach him to play a traditional instrument, the Chapai. Kevin accepts. Gradually, as his self-confidence is restored, Kevin ventures out to meet his father’s sisters who have heard their nephew is in town. Over a week, Kevin manages to master a simple Khmer song on the Chapai. His teacher is encouraging and asks him to join him and his father, and play with them at a concert. Little does Kevin know that his teacher’s father is the famous Chapai player Kong Nai, the Ray Charles of Cambodia. The night is a great success.