Review of “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey”

Earlier this evening there was a showing of “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey” at Middlesex Community College. Two weeks ago I attended the Lowell premiere and wrote a short post about that event. Afterwards I wrote a more thorough review of the film which I’ve reproduced below:

On Thursday, April 4, 2013, several hundred supporters packed theater 13 at the Showcase Cinema in Lowell for the New England premiere of “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey,” a documentary about the experience of Sayon Soeun as a child soldier in Cambodia and his search decades later for the surviving members of his family. The turbulence of the early 1970s touched every part of Cambodia including the rural home of six-year old Sayon where he lived with his parents, brothers and sisters. Although he had been instructed by his mother to stay close to home, one day Sayon climbed aboard a military truck that was already filled with dozens of his friends. That was the last day he would ever see his parents. Taken to a military camp, Sayon and the other children were trained as Khmer Rouge soldiers despite their young age. For the next few years, Sayon served as a soldier and became an eyewitness to the horrors of the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

As circumstances in Cambodia changed, Sayon and thousands of others were able to leave the country, first for refugee camps and then for the United Sates. Thirteen year old Sayon was adopted by a family in Connecticut. After graduating from high school, Sayon was drawn to Lowell by friends but remained in the city because of difficulties with the law. A six month jail sentence gave him time to think about his future and as soon as he was released, he devoted his life to helping Cambodian youth in Lowell.

In recent years after marrying and becoming well established in Lowell, Sayon thought more and more about the family he left behind in Cambodia. His investigation put him in contact with men who claimed to be his brothers. Although he was skeptical of that claim, he decided to return to Cambodia to investigate further. On that journey he was accompanied by his sister-in-law, Sopheap Theam (also a survivor of the Killing Fields) and a documentary film crew.

Back in Cambodia, Sayon met the three men and one woman who claimed to be his brothers and sisters along with dozens of nieces and nephews. Each talked about their experiences during the war and the fate of their parents. Although he was treated warmly by everyone, Sayon still had doubts about whether he was their brother and persuaded them to have their DNA tested to establish the relationship for sure.

The tensest moment in the film came back in Lowell when the envelopes containing the DNA test results were delivered to Sayon. Regardless of the test results (which I will not disclose here), Sayon seemed like there would always be something missing in his life. Perhaps the title of the film, Lost Child, also means a lost childhood because that was something taken from Sayon and it could never be replaced.

Directed by Janet Gardner and co-produced by Gardner and Sopheap Theam, Lost Child is an excellent film that should be seen by every resident of Lowell, especially those who are not from Cambodia or of Cambodian descent. I know it gave me valuable insight into the experience of many of my Cambodian friends and neighbors and increased the respect and appreciation I have for their accomplishments here in Lowell. The film will next be shown on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:00 P.M. at Middlesex Community College’s Lowell campus.

One Response to Review of “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey”

  1. George DeLuca says:

    I attended the screening last night and was taken by the raw emotion and poignancy of the film, as well as by the honesty and continued pursuit of Sayon.

    I wasn’t sure if the film adequately explained (to me) his harsh feelings for his mother that developed from the time he was taken from his family until he found himself standing corrected later in life. Perhaps it requires more processing on my part to better understand. Whatever I end up feeling about it only enhances the film in my eyes in that it compels me to think more deeply about it.

    The experience has left Sayon conflicted about his brother’s role in the Khmer Rouge as a 4 star general, but fully explains his own childhood acceptance that he felt his own involvement was normal. I found this contrast remarkable, carrying with it the essence of the film.

    I did not express my quandary about Sayon’s feelings about his mother, as its my job to process my own feelings here. I trusted Janet’s capability as director, and give her high marks for leaving me with much to think about on several levels.

    So my comment to Sayon during Q&A was about the contrast of the ultimate experiences of the 2 brothers which is profound. As I was leaving, I thanked Sayon for participating in the film, and that it gave me much to think about. We hugged and I left feeling that I want to learn more.