Private Project

Cirque du Cambodia

Cirque du Cambodia follows the journeys of two teenagers from rural Cambodia living out a classic fantasy – running away and joining the circus. But it isn’t just any circus they dream about, they are determined to become the first Cambodians to perform with Cirque du Soleil.

  • Joel Gershon
    Crystal Power; After the Wave; Everything Has Its Time; Bhopal Lives
  • Joel Gershon
    Crystal Power, After the Wave, Everything Has Its Time, Bhopal Lives
  • Joel Gershon
    Crystal Power, After the Wave, Everything Has Its Time, Bhopal Lives
  • Dina Sok
    Key Cast
  • Sopha Nem
    Key Cast
  • Joel Gershon
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 26 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    October 15, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Cambodia, Canada, Thailand, United States
  • Language:
    Central Khmer, English, French
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • United Nations Association FIlm Festival
    Palo Alto
    United States
    October 21, 2020
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Big Apple Film Festival
    United States
    May 27, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Circus International Film Festival
    United States
    April 17, 2021
    Jury Prize
  • Docs Without Borders
    United States
    May 2, 2021
    Outstanding Excellence
  • Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival
    Middlebury, VT
    United States
    August 29, 2021
    New England
    Best Feature Film – Audience Award
  • Cambodia Town Film Festival
    Long Beach, CA
    United States
    September 25, 2021
    Festival opening Film
  • BKK DOC 2021 – Bangkok International Documentary Awards
    December 18, 2021
    Best First-Time Producer
  • Berkshire International Film Festival
    Great Barrington, MA
    United States
    June 4, 2022
    Audience Award
  • Disorient Asian American Film Festival
    Eugene, OR
    United States
    April 10, 2022
    Pacific Northwest
  • Asian Celebration
    Eugene, OR
    United States
    May 20, 2022
  • Cambodia International Film Festival
    Phnom Penh
    June 29, 2022
  • Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
    Sebastopol, CA
    United States
    March 26, 2022
  • Berkshire International Film Festival
    Great Barrington, MA
    United States
    June 3, 2022
    Audience Award
  • DMV International Film Festival
    Washington, DC
    United States
    February 25, 2023
    Best Feature Film
Director Biography - Joel Gershon

After graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2003, Joel worked for the groundbreaking Air America Radio network, helping produce a show hosted by Rachel Maddow, before she began her work as a host at MSBNC, and worked alongside such talents as Mark Maron, Chuck D. and Al Franken.

In 2005, Joel was uprooted from his hometown of Brooklyn, when he was hired as a reporter for the International Herald Tribune in Bangkok, fulfilling his lifelong dream of living and working abroad as a journalist, and he stayed in the kingdom of Thailand for 12 years. During his time there, he worked as the regional correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter before moving on to producing broadcast news pieces and short documentaries, which aired internationally on a variety of channels including CNN and the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT World), and his work was screened at international film festivals such as the Bangkok World Film Festival and the International Tribal Film Festival in Bhopal, India. Joel also worked as a media studies professor at Thailand's two most prominent universities for ten years.

In 2011, during the Great Flood of Bangkok, Joel left the city to find safe haven and travelled to the neighboring country of Cambodia, where he came across a school for the arts, Phare Ponleu Selpak, located in a village outside the small city of Battambang. It was there that he saw a performance put on by students who were part of the "social circus" program, and he immediately knew he had to make a film about what he saw. He spent the next eight years working on the project that eventually would become his first feature film, "Cirque du Cambodia."

After 12 years of living abroad, Joel moved back to the U.S. in 2017 after accepting a lecturing job at American University. Now based in Washington D.C., Joel is committed to making films and telling stories with a social justice angle using his vast experience as a foreign correspondent, and is committed to getting a wide release for "Cirque du Cambodia," which he finally recently completed.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

When I worked as a journalist and television producer in Bangkok from 2005-2017, I was captivated by the many fascinating cultures I encountered as I explored 13 countries throughout Asia, but it was in 2011, when I visited Cambodia that I came across something that struck me in the most magical and unexpected way. I went to see a local tourist attraction at a special arts school, Phare Ponleu Selpak, in a rural Cambodian village. There, I witnessed a circus show performed by local youths, some of whom come from challenging backgrounds with little hope of a bright future. The palpable joy on the performers’ faces (and the audience's) gave me goosebumps and I knew right then and there that I had to capture those faces, the mind-boggling circus tricks and the incredible stories of these young people’s lives. Little did I know that telling the story of this special circus and two of its performers would consume my life for the next eight years.

Phare’s circus is part of the “social circus” movement, which teaches circus arts to at-risk youths. I quickly learned about the benefits that come with circus training: excellent physical fitness, a sense of responsibility and teamwork, and an understanding of the importance of staying focused and accomplishing goals. I grew to understand how social circus programs are effective in helping vulnerable youths to overcome poverty, potential danger and have a chance at a better life. The importance of the circus and the arts in these young people’s lives was something I hadn’t seen, heard or thought of before, and it deeply moved me.

As I learned more about Phare, I met two of its top students, Dina and Sopha, who were a cut above the rest in terms of their abilities and dedication. They were so talented that they were accepted with full scholarships to train at the best circus school in the world – The National Circus School of Montreal. They had never even heard of Montreal before applying, but they had a seemingly impossible dream: to perform with Cirque du Soleil, and since the venerable circus company's headquarters are located across the street from the National Circus School, they wanted to go for it. With a narrative this compelling, I knew Dina and Sopha’s unique journey – from Cambodia to Cirque – would make a powerful and dramatic film.

I wanted to share their determination and hope with the world, and by promoting the concept of the social circus and Phare, I hoped that others could see the importance of creativity and art in overcoming the many challenges that vulnerable children around the world face. Thus, "Cirque du Cambodia" was born.