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Note-to-self

Written by, Eugenia Chung

One interesting thing I’ve noticed while briefly being in the film industry in Kyrgyzstan is, female actresses are tired of the “stereotypical beautiful nice woman role.” In fact, some of the well known up coming actresses all requests “Could you make a role that is more unique, out of the box, and unconventional?”

 Photo Credit: Sam Barataliev

Photo Credit: Sam Barataliev

One of the most famous and nationally beloved actress also adored the idea of the film, but after much much dilemma, ended up declining a role we had for her because the character was too “normal.” She said, “I’m too tired of taking a role that is always the same type of personality. I want to take on something different.”

This took me to quite a surprise in two different ways.

One, I love love love how bold these actresses are to want to take a role that is more “shocking” and I love how they are tired of being the “perfect woman.” There’s something more organic, dynamic, and quite powerful in the way that they want to take on characters that give a totally different vibe and image into the culture.

Two, this shows me that many storytellers or writers of this field in this nation are still portraying women in a “picture perfect” and “ideal” way. There is still a very limited type of female characters created in the stories that fill this culture it seems. In a sense, it kind of resembles the underlying social gender roles or more so personalities women are expected to take on.

I’m not an expert at gender roles, nor am I anywhere near an expert in the film industry culture here in Kyrgyzstan, but from my little experience over the past 3 years... This was just an interesting note-to-self type of observation.

This also makes me question as well whether the female characters we have on our film are being portrayed dynamically… Are we adding on to the stereotype? Or are we in a way, bringing a more organic variety of personalities that actually represent the women in this country well? Something to keep note on for myself. I hope we're doing it well.

Just dumping my thoughts here to keep record of the little interesting things I encounter as we continue this project.

 

 

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To My Father

We take a moment right now in remembrance of one of our team member's father who recently passed away earlier this week. He was fighting against cancer for the past couple years with such bravery, strength, and unfailing joy in his heart. Even though he was weak from the pain, he would never stop thinking for his family before himself and even our team. We commemorate his selfless love that was such a firm foundation for his family and those who knew him.

This is a poem that our team member, his son, wrote a year ago as a potential side project we were thinking of. We never got around to finish it, but we wish to tribute this as a way to honor his father in this difficult time for his family. 

To my father, whom I love

 

I am where I am because of you.
In the days of your youth,
The world was a different place.
The roads dustier; the dinner table emptier;
Shoes were always worn till bare sole scraped the ground.

But you had big dreams.
The days to come could always be painted a little brighter, a little warmer.
Like a kite,
The sky was the limit.
You worked hard,
Tattered books read over dim candlelight.
College was an unimaginable dream,
But you did it.

You were a great artist.
You were a great singer.
You were a great writer.

Many were the roads to pursue,
Many were the dreams to dream.

You met mom.
Fireworks lighted the night sky and love filled your empty stomach.
She walked down the aisle, a band around her finger, a promise around her heart

And as “I do” rolled off your tongue,
Suddenly, you were—a “husband”
You were—“the man of the house”

And promises of paved roads and fuller tables,
Real Nikes with cushioned soles,
Brought you and mom to the “land of opportunities”
With your college degree,
Your first opportunity was pumping gas at a gas station.

But you had big dreams.
The days to come could always be painted a little brighter, a little warmer.
Like a kite,
The sky was the limit.
You worked hard,
ABCs and “How are you?s” recited deep into the nights.
You realized that there were certain doors that just couldn’t be opened,
Because of the way your “f” sounded like “p”
But you knocked and found ones that did.

You did it.

Surely, after this door, others could be opened.
The sky was the limit.

But, when mom laid in the hospital bed,
Holding me in her arms,
Everything changed—

You were a father.

As you held me,
I was the kite.
You were grounded.
You walked through that door
and for the past 24 years,
You have walked through that same exact door
Into—“Fatherhood” with a smile.

I have experienced the world,
Because of every morning you walked into that office.
I have experienced places and things you could only see on a screen,
Because of every hour spent behind that screen.

Because of your folded dreams,
I have had the privilege to see mine unfold.
I have had the opportunity to dream dreams.
I couldn’t see
The cuts and burns in your hand,
From navigating through the storms,
My head was in the clouds,
As you held on tightly from beneath.

Every smile, lifting me a little higher,
Above the storm clouds, above the thunder and the rain,
Your voice calling out,
“Son, how does it look over there?”
“It’s amazing! How are you?”
The answer was always the same:
“I’m good!”

Even when rain mixed with tears mixed with sweat mixed with blood,
“I’m good!”
Through the sleepless nights, walking the tightrope between bills to be paid and food on the table,
The aches in your shoulders, your back, your legs…
Worry knocking on the bruises of your heart…
“I’m good!”

You wove your dreams
Into the thread that held me in the sky
When the storms of life shook the ground beneath you—
Gritted teeth and a resilient whisper in your heart,
“To my last breath”—
You were the wind beneath me.

Then one day,
You collapsed. Literally.
Your legs gave out, your arms went limp.
The taut string that grounded me to the sky went loose,
A rush of fear, regret, confusion, anger,
All mixed together into a nasty concoction that choked my heart
The kite spiraled to the ground…

“Dad…? What happened?”
I had never seen you so weak, so helpless,
Tubes running through you,
Propped up by saggy hospital cushions,
You were barely able to hold my hand.

Just above a whisper,
“Son, good to see you .”
“It’s okay, I will get better.”
And then you smiled,
But this time, it hurt.
“I’m good.”
The last two words a dagger to the heart.
Is this what you meant by “I’m good”?

As you learned to walk again,
I found myself in a strange place.
Walking through the same doors you had been,
Sitting behind the same desk,
The ever growing stack of bills to be paid,
Just one more and it would come crashing down into my empty pockets.
My feet slowly molded into your work slippers
But my heart wouldn’t fit.

The captain’s helm was a daunting place to be.
As waves threatened to crash through the planks,
And winds ripped through the sails,
In the darkest of nights that ate up all the stars,
Frustrated tears, full of fear, fell into emptiness,
“How did you do it all these years, Dad?”

When you smiled and said “I’m good,”
It was not a lie.
But every time I said, “I’m good,”
I learned to hold a smile so you wouldn’t catch the lie.
But you could always tell.

The worst part is,
There were days I was so tired
I didn’t even try.
I couldn’t even last a month, Dad.

As I took your keys and went to work,
I closed the door, closed my eyes to
Tears drawn from the well of your heart.
“I’m sorry, Son.”
“Thank you.”

Don’t say sorry. Don’t ever say sorry.

I always liked rain, the way it gently tapped on the windows
The rolling thunder that rumbled the window frames,
But the moment the walls gave away
And the roof crashed in on me
Rain like bullets pelted down on bare skin
And the deafening thunder was all I heard

…...

But when a white flag went over my head,
Love took my hand,
Wrapped the thread that held me to the sky around my fist
And punched the darkness so hard in the mouth that it spit out all the stars.

And in that moment,
I could see.
All these years, the cuts and burns in your hands,
They were not simply to keep me afloat.

You were teaching me to waltz with the wind,
The higher I went, the stronger the winds roared,
But we danced. WE danced.
And, as this truth settled into my heart, like an anchor to the sea,
Like muscle memory, my heart pirouetted in the storm.
And I swear I heard your gentle chuckles in the thunder.

You brushed joy over us,
Sang away fears,
And etched truth into our hearts,
“You are loved.”

You are a great lover.

And I thank you for that,
For weaving love into the thread that held me to the sky.

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Renewed Hope

Hi everyone who was running, rooting, and supporting us thus far.

This is Eugenia.

You were probably wondering why we were off the radar for the past few months, and curious about what happened to the film production process. A lot has happened. Oh man. Where to even begin.

To be honest, I didn't have the strength left in me to be able to write or update everyone with the current state of the project. It was only recently like, two weeks ago, where I hit rock bottom then found a small inkling of hope to get up again.

Back in October, we were all running hard to get the production rolling. Every single person on the team was pouring out their heart and energy. But we hit three big walls, where we had no choice but to stop the progress of the film.

Wall 1: We probably auditioned close to 80 people for the main character’s role. Even till the last minute we could not find the right fit. The progress of the film project kept getting postponed because of this.

Wall 2: The most most important scene in the film is in a golden harvest field. Winter was creeping around the corner and it was impossible to find a field that was not cut down. Miraculously, we were able to find one last field that still had some time before it’s harvesting. But three days before the scheduled shoot date, the owner of the field called us and said… he had cut it down because it was getting too cold. So we lost our most key location.

Wall 3: The next day, our team found out that funding was not going to come in, and we had not enough to continue.

It felt like everything was crumbling like a domino effect and all the doors were closing. But there was nothing we could do about it. With a heavy heart, I had to gather everyone on the team and tell them all that had happened and that we had to postpone the project to next year. 

It was one of the hardest thing I had to do. I couldn’t look at everyone in the eye but just look down in defeat and sorry-ness. But instead of receiving waves of negativity or discouragement, everyone on the team was so supportive and hopeful. Everyone was speaking words of encouragement saying “We can still make this happen.” Seriously, we have an amazing cast, crew, and team. I cannot ask for anything better than this. We all departed one another with goodbyes of “We will wait till next year.”

With that note of hope, Esther and I still stayed in Kyrgyzstan to figure out the next steps for the project. Honestly, it wasn't easy. We had no budget left because we paid everyone their rightful wages, so Esther and I barely had enough to pay for 2 months of rent and only around $100 left for groceries. We had to find a way to survive.

Thankfully, three days later we got an opportunity to help out in marketing for a small company. So for three months we were producing marketing materials and surviving off of the money we made from there and still continuing to run for the project on the side. The thought of going back home did pop up in my mind, but we knew we had to stay and still try.

In December we got a chance to visit Korea for about a month to raise funds during a few events and gathered around 15K to save up for preproduction. But more than that, we were really able to raise awareness about the message of the film and about Kyrgyzstan. It was amazing to see the response of people and how many people wanted to help. It all seemed like everything was going somewhat smoothly.

Then, a turn of events happened. 

It was a normal cold winter Tuesday afternoon after a week since we came back to Kyrgyzstan from Korea. I was walking back home with Esther and a friend from some grocery shopping. The streets were all covered from the frozen snow, now turned ice. It was literally just a block away from home… then I slipped on the ice, fell hard on the ground with a loud thump and broke my right ankle. How bad was it? Two bone fractures, one broken bone, and torn ligaments. Oh yea.. it was pretty darn painful.

The next thing I know, I’m crippled and bed ridden for the next 6 weeks. Poor Esther had to make food for me all the time and take over my workload as well. The first three weeks was hard to even go to the bathroom, because every time my leg was lowered, the blood flow pulsed so much it was excruciatingly painful. Had to stay in bed with my leg elevated all day long.

Many thoughts go through your mind when all you do is stay home in stillness. It was like I was forced to rest. Being bed ridden and lying all day in mundaneness wasn't all that bad. But I think the hardest thing for me was that I felt like I was letting everyone down. The cast, the crew, the team.. Everyone was waiting and hoping that the project would start again. There is so much I need to do for the project to continue, and even if I run all day long there is such a small chance where things could work out. But I couldn’t even do anything about it. The uncertainty of the next steps and the helpless state I was at was slowly eating me alive. I guess you can say, I was loosing hope.

Then just about two weeks ago, I hit rock bottom of my downward spiral, and I was ready to just drop everything and leave. The hopelessness was growing in me so much that I was convinced that there is no way this was going to work, and it would be better to go back home.

Yes, I was in a pretty low state.. 

But then something so simple, but something so profound just popped up in my face. I was sitting at a café with Esther and a friend whose been helping us out from the beginning. I was sharing how I lost hope and was on the verge of giving up. He just listened nodding to every word I was venting out. Then he shared how hard it was for him to pursue after his dream of being an artist as well. He submitted his painting to 55 galleries in New York City, and getting rejected to every single one of them. It was hard, but he didn't give up. Now he is one of the most recognized artists in Bishkek.

“I know how hard it must be. It was for me too. But don’t give up. Let’s try to figure out what we can do to make it work. There’s still hope.”

That was it. That's all he said, so simple and so short. But something about it made me alive again. Something in my heart felt warm again. It was a familiar feeling, this small inkling warm sense of… hope.

Honestly, I still haven’t fully comprehended what happened in that moment. Literally that’s all that it took for hope to come alive again. All that was spoken was this empathetic affirmation through a story he went through. Then an initiation to try and solve this problem, “together”. 

It made me think a lot about what “hope” is or I guess more like how it forms. I’m still in the process of understanding it… but so far what I’ve realized is, it has something to do with stories and knowing that someone is willing to help.

The powerful thing about stories, especially “testimonies,” are that it connects your heart to that exact moment of the person’s heart; a connection that is beyond time, realm, and location. And somehow in the “relating” process of it, you suddenly realize you’re not alone, you find encouragement, and you find affirmation. It seems like that is the beginning process of feeling a sudden sense of ease or comfort. It’s so strange how the sharing of stories is so powerful. Nothing circumstantially or physically changes, but somehow stories are able to alter the condition of one’s heart to shift from one realm to another. 

And with that, when you realize a hand is offered to give help, it seems like this formation of hope solidifies. When someone is showing their heart to help, it gives you the sense of “togetherness,” and the burdens seems to feel lighter. I feel like, this is the exact moment when hope comes to it’s fullest. Which made me think, wow, all of us are just in search of a helper, a companion, a savior. 

So hope is found in the communion of people sharing their stories, heart, and helping one another. In other words, Hope is found where there is a love of a community.

They say that humans can survive up to 3 days without water and 30 days without food, but cannot survive 3 seconds without hope. I guess in a sense; hope is one of the most vital life sources we have that keeps us alive. Every day when we wake up till the moment we sleep, whether we know it or not, we’re all in search of hope in one form or another.

This project is really ironic. Here we are, a few young peeps trying to make a film that will bring hope to people, but in actuality we ourselves are also learning to find hope in the entire process of making this film in itself. And during this short period of my down season, I realize that hope is found in love. It may not be a superb revelation, but this is so far where I’m at.

I wanted to be raw and honest to you all about what I had gone through, what I learned, and where I am at now. I hope somehow by me sharing this story will be an encouragement to someone out there that's at the brink of giving up on something. And I just want to say, “Youre not alone. Don't give up. There is still hope.” 

So. After I renewed my hope and with the cast finally off, we’re running again for the project to continue. We’re trying to fundraise in Korea, find volunteers in America, raise awareness in Kyrgyzstan, and hope for the best. Here’s to a new start. I have re-committed myself again to run full force for this film, this story of hope, to be shared to the people of Kyrgyzstan. Let’s try this one more time.

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From the States, back to Kyrgyzstan!

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From the States, back to Kyrgyzstan!

Written by, Eugenia Chung, Producer

About a month ago, our team managed to successfully complete the first stage of this project in Kyrgyzstan and returned back to the States. When we look back on this crazy journey, it's a miracle that we've come this far. How'd we do it? I honestly don't know! It’s all a blur right now... but somehow every day, one step at a time, taking leaps of faith, we’ve come this far. But, we definitely did not come this far on our own. In every step we took, there are traces of many others who supported us, believed in the cause and cheered us on.

So, how’d we do it thus far?

It was honestly because of everyone who was there helping us—they are the backbone of this project.

We came back to the States briefly to organize the work that is going on here, figure out next steps, and repack our bags. This time, we're taking all the nice coffee we can get, peanut butter (a rarity in Kyrgyzstan), and a whole bunch of Sriracha bottles. Oh yes, these are absolutely vital for our survival... trust me.

 The thought of saying goodbye to Chipotle burritos when I go back in Kyrgyzstan breaks my heart... I think I'm too attached. Oh how I will miss thee.

The thought of saying goodbye to Chipotle burritos when I go back in Kyrgyzstan breaks my heart... I think I'm too attached. Oh how I will miss thee.

On a more serious note, we also came to re-focus, come together as a team and remind ourselves why we are doing this project. Honestly, many times, it feels and looks like "Mission Impossible.” People may think we're out of our minds... but we push on because the voices of the daughters of Kyrgyzstan need to be heard. It is for all families crying out for a brighter future.  It is because it IS POSSIBLE for their lives to be filled with hope. What better way to live the one life we have than to live it out for others?

 Meet Soy Sauce, our Alya Production's kitty.

Meet Soy Sauce, our Alya Production's kitty.

I don't know how everything will turn out, but it's definitely worth a try. And, it would really not be possible if it weren't for all of your love and support. With that as our foundation, from what just started as an idea that popped into my mind on that hot summer day in June of 2013, now it is time to step into the second stage: Make the Film.

We leave to Kyrgyzstan in just a few days to join the production team and start preparing for production! We will also be launching our fundraiser soon to raise the remaining funds needed to see this film come alive!

Will it all work?

Well, we’ve come this far! Let’s continue this journey of #SalvagingHope together and find out!

Kyrgyzstan, HERE WE COME!

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