Out of the Dark

A Cambodian woman survives the Khmer Rouge genocide, saves women and children from poverty and death, but is still haunted by ghosts of that terrible time.
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Jeffrey DePonte
Email Verified
Film
Honolulu, Hawaii
United States
5 Team Members
Out of the Dark is a sponsored project of the International Documentary Association.

"My name is Nuon Phaly...

...I was not born to be what I have become.”

From the autobiography of Madame Nuon Phaly

Wife. Mother. Victim. Survivor. Hero.

Nuon Phaly’s autobiography reads like a Hollywood script. How she survives the Killing Fields and goes on to nurture a generation of women and orphans is one of the great humanitarian sagas of our time. We would like to bring her remarkable story to a worldwide audience, and to do so, we need your help.

A video message from the filmmaker


Why Am I Making This Movie?

Director/Cinematographer Jeff DePonte shooting at a shanty town on the edge of Steung Meanchey garbage dump, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. ©Rob Hail 2012

I’m a documentary filmmaker from Honolulu, Hawaii. I’ve been making short films, videos, and television programs for over thirty years. I first learned of Nuon Phaly from my friend Rob Hail, whose charitable work with Cambodian orphans led to his becoming a friend and supporter of Nuon Phaly. After hearing him speak of this extraordinary woman and reading her autobiography, I knew that there was a film here.

When Phaly and a group of Cambodian orphans came to Hawaii for a cultural exchange, I saw the bright faces of the children of Future Light Orphanage— how beautifully they performed their Khmer song and dance, how kind and loving they were. Then, in Cambodia, I saw first-hand, the dichotomy that is a modern-day, third-world country: cities bustling with nightlife and commerce, while in the provinces, there is drought and poverty. Nuon Phaly’s mission took her into those dark corners of Cambodia. It was her calling  to find children in need and to give them the greatest gift of all: hope.

I had the chance to meet and speak with Phay, her family members, friends, and FLO graduates whose lives, whose destinies, were changed by this amazing woman. Their words left me more convinced than ever...  Nuon Phaly’s story must be told!


Out of the Dark... a legacy of hope.

The entrance to the Khmer Rouge Security Prison 21, or S-21, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. ©Jeff DePonte 2012

When the black pajama-clad soldiers of the Khmer Rouge forced Nuon Phaly and her family from their home in Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, she began a journey of unimaginable pain and suffering. Within weeks, Phaly witnessed the death of her husband and younger sister. Six months later, her infant son, to whom she had given birth at the side of the road, died in her arms. Under the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia slipped into darkness— 1.9 million Cambodians died, including 90% of the country's cultured class. Phaly lost many family members and friends, while narrowly escaping death herself many times. And, wherever Phaly traveled, she saw unspeakable acts of horror. However, it seemed it was the women and children who suffered the most.

Phaly and her family spent nearly two decades living a nightmarish, nomadic existence, beginning in barbaric Khmer Rouge labor camps, and ending in the squalor of a Thai refugee camp. Finally, in 1993, Phaly and her family left Thailand and returned to Phnom Penh to build a new life. In an act of selflessness, she would also bring 9 women and 91 orphans with her, in the hope that together, they might forge a better future. Thus, Future Light Orphanage (FLO) was born.

With the founding of FLO, Phaly gains international attention. In 1993, the French press presents Phaly with the prestigious Figaro Award for humanitarian action, and in 1998, she's honored with the Ramon Magsaysay Award – the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. (Past awardees have included Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Ravi Shankar.) Thinking only of the children, Phaly puts the cash prizes from both awards towards improving the orphanage, making life better for them. Today, FLO nurtures and educates hundreds of children each year.

The story of Nuon Phaly and Future Light Orphanage is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and the legacy of a remarkable woman. It’s here, in her work with the orphans, that Phaly helped lead her people out of the darkness and into the light. And, it’s here where Phaly struggled to come to terms with the devastation the Khmer Rouge wreaked upon her own family.


The Film

Village boy enjoys his first apple, Prey Veng province, Cambodia. ©Jeff DePonte 2012

“Out of the Dark” will be a documentary film which will bring the story of Nuon Phaly to a global audience, in the hope that each viewer can gain some inspiration and become empowered to, in whatever fashion, make the world a better place.

We are currently in production. I’ve made two trips to Cambodia to do research, conduct interviews, and shoot at FLO and in the countryside. To date, I’ve invested nearly $20,000 of my own money and many, many hours in the project. We are asking for contributions to fund another critical shoot in Phnom Penh, and for the start of post-production. Our shoot budget includes travel, research, conducting interviews, shooting, and associated expenses. Post-production monies will be used for writing, acquiring archival film, and the actual video editing. Your Indiegogo contribution will enable us to finish shooting and launch into editing, as well as to promote the film and generate additional funding from other sources. Donations over and above our Indiegogo goal will be rolled into the ongoing post-production phase of the film.

Nuon Phaly led her people out some of the darkest times in the history of mankind, and into the light of a brighter tomorrow. With your help, we can launch this film and share her inspiring story with the world.

"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened."  Buddha


Tax Deductible Donation

Children playing in the shanty town on the edge of Steung Meanchey garbage dump, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. ©Jeff DePonte 2012

Your donation is tax deductible!!! Out of the Dark is a fiscally sponsored project of the International Documentary Association (IDA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions on behalf of Out of the Dark are payable to IDA and are tax deductible less the value of any goods or services received, as allowed by law. The value of goods and services being offered is noted under each donation level. If you would like to deduct the entire donation you have the option to simply decline the reward at check out. 

Thank you very much for your generous support!

Jeff DePonte

Director/Cinematographer

“Out of the Dark”

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    A day-long street photography photowalk with the filmmaker in Choam Chao, FLO, and Phnom Penh. (Airfare, hotel not included. Tuk-tuk ride and street-vendor lunch: Included!). A limited edition photograph created by the filmmaker: “Wailing Boy” as exhibited in the juried show, 2013 Contemporary Photography in Hawaii. Later - Two DVD copies of the film with special outtakes/scenes from Future Light Orphanage. (amount over $750 is tax-deductible)

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