I came across Souvankham Thammavongsa, on whose poetry this film is based, at a multi-disciplinary arts event in 2004 where she read from her first book of poems, Small Arguments. At this event Souvankham sat between two stellar Canadian poets/authors writers - Michael Ondaatje and Dionne Brand. Her voice, along with the beauty of her poems, had an enormous impact on me. The honesty of her poems and her unique fragile voice instantly stood out even though she was reading alongside these two icons of the Canadian literary scene. Her words wanted to reach out and find a place for themselves. And they did. Small Arguments went on to win several prizes.
I knew I wanted to work with her, somehow. I wasn't making films then, but in 2007 when her second book FOUND launched, I knew it had to be a film, and that I wanted to have her voice deliver the story.
The opportunity came when producer Ted Biggs approached me about working on a project together. Once we received funding from Bravo!FACT, the process began.
Souvankham's story is one of many immigrant stories, but what makes it stand out is the sense that we are not supposed to know about this one. It was like a little secret locked up within the pages of her father's scrapbook; the scrapbook he kept while they lived in a Lao refugee camp in Thailand, and the one that Souvankham found when her father discarded it many years later in Toronto.
While her father discarded his past, Souvankham's story began. Through these pages, she reconstructs how her family escaped Laos in the 1970s and found their way to Canada by way of a refugee camp in Thailand.
I think the challenge of creating this film was reconstructing a story set in the past using a discarded notebook as the only witness. To add to that, Souvankham was very respectful about not intruding her father's privacy. There are many pages of text written in Laotian that were never translated. She simply picks the little bits that are given to her and pieces them together. As the film begins with her voice professing, "I can live with what I know and with that alone..."
"This small evocative film makes the viewer want to discover more of the poetry..." James McNally, Toronto Screen Shots