“Lotus Sports Club”: Football, Acceptance, and Trans Lives
A variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender films will be screened during Pride Month, at the Cambodia International Film Festival from June 28 to July 3. Premiering for the first time, is “Lotus Sports Club”, a heart-warming documentary following a team of young football players in Cambodia.
A teenage trans man plays football for Kampong Chhnang’s female under-21 team in “Lotus Sports Club”. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to Leak and Pa Vann, who coach the team. Pa Vann opened his home to more vulnerable teenagers as well as straight, lesbian, and gender-diverse football players. After being terminated from the football team due to age, Leak moves to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, leaving behind the people he most loves.
Over 5 Years in the Making
The project began in late 2014, when Cambodian documentary filmmaker Vanna Hem, Robert Witlox from Dutch NGO “Document Our History Now,” and RoCK decided to shoot a documentary about marginalised lgbtq+ communities in rural Cambodia. “We filmed the lgbtq+ women’s football team in Kampong Chhnang on and off for 2 years,” Hem explained.” In late 2017, after watching an initial edit of the documentary, Tommaso Colognese, whom I worked with in Cambodia during the filming of Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” in 2015/16, joined the creative team as co-director and co-producer.”
During the next couple of years, the focus shifted from the football team’s story to the individual stories of the main subjects. Leak and Amas, two young trans players on the team, became the main focus. They also explored their relationship with coach Pa Vann over the years, especially after they left Kampong Chhnang in 2018 and moved to Phnom Penh.
“Filming for such a long period gave us then the privileged position to be able to witness their personal development as young adults while broadening the understanding of their identities and what modern Cambodian society can offer them in that respect,” Hem stated. “We of course hope that the film will be of interest not only to LGBTQ+ crowds but also to any kind, because of the universal elements of the story that anyone can relate to regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Covid affected the post-production stage. “After the initial difficult months during which we had to stop editing on the film, we learned to work remotely,” Hem sighed. “With me here in Cambodia and Tommaso, Martina, the 2 editors, the composer and sound supervisor in London. It would have been of course nicer to be all in the same country and room, but, again, we adapted to the new circumstances and tried to make the best of it.”
Advocating for More LGBTQI+ Films in Cambodia
Hem is no stranger to making films about the LGBTQI+ community, and has documented the very first pride event in Cambodia. Over the years, Hem has watched the pride events have become bigger, more elaborate and more inclusive of the many identities in the LGBTQ+ community. “There is more visibility in the media and that is reflected also in society at large,” Hem stated. “Of course, it is not all perfect and there are still battles to fight for equality, but I think the LGBTQ+ community in Cambodia has become stronger, more organised, proud and more accepted in society.
Hem encourages more filmmakers to create more films about the LGBTQI+ community and believes that empowering stories and representation of role models will benefit society as a whole. Hem wants to see growth in Cambodia’s film industry, both in national and international productions. He also wants for more LGBTQI+ stories to be produced with better representation in the industry, following the steps of other film industries abroad.
Currently, Leak and Amas are still living and working in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, their days of playing football are numbered as they focus on their jobs. Pa Vann and his partner Sophorn who are still training the next generation of football players in Kampong Chhnang are expected to attend the premiere at the Cambodia International Film Festival from June 28- July 3. “Tommaso is travelling too — we will all be there,” Hem said. “We are all very excited to finally reunite and celebrate the release of the film!”
Written by Sotheavy Nou