Lotus Sports Club
A documentary about identity, family, growing up in Cambodia, and, last but not least, football.
DOHN is proud to finally announce that, after more than 5 years in the making, the documentary Lotus Sports Club, directed by Vanna Hem and Tommaso Colognese, and produced by Robert Witlox and Document Our History Now in association with RoCK (Rainbow Community Kampuchea), is finally completed. [April 2022]
We can’t wait to share this work of passion and love with all of our supporters who have believed in us during all these years.
We are so grateful for your precious support; we couldn’t have made it without you!
Soon we will be revealing the name of the festival the documentary will be world premiering at!
Thank you so much!
About – Synopsis
Shot in Cambodia over 5 years, Lotus Sports Club, is an inspiring coming-of-age story that centres around Leak, a teenage trans man who plays football in the under-21s women’s team of Kampong Chhnang, and Pa Vann, the coach and father-figure to Leak and other LGBTQ+ players on the team.
61-year-old Pa Vann established the football team in 2009 to encourage solidarity among straight, lesbian and gender-diverse players. He also opened his home to the more vulnerable often homeless teenagers, including Leak, thus providing these LGBTQ+ players a safe place to be themselves.
After living with Pa Vann for many years, Leak, driven by the pressure to make more money for his family and forced off the football team because of his age, takes the heart-breaking decision to move to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, leaving behind the one person he has loved the most.
The Lotus Sports Club Football Team
The Documentary Genesis
The Lotus Sports Club documentary project originated in 2015 when Cambodian documentary filmmaker Vanna Hem, Cambodian NGO Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), and Robert Witlox, founder of Dutch NGO Document Our History Now, decided to join forces for a new project about LGBTQ+ communities in rural Cambodia. The story of coach Pa Vann and of the football team in Kampong Chhnang captured everyone’s attention due to its unique elements and the determination and dedication of its founder Pa Vann. Vanna established, since the beginning, a trustful relationship with all of the subjects of the film and was welcomed in the house where Pa Vann, his wife Sophorn, and Leak and Amas (two of the gender-diverse players of the team), all lived together. In 2017 Tommaso Colognese, who had met Vanna in 2015 in Cambodia while both working on Angelina Jolie’s Netflix production “First They Killed My Father”, joined the production team as co-director and co-producer. After a new period of filming (Dec17-Mar19), in the summer of 2019, the team run a successful Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the funds necessary for the post production of the movie. Once the transcribing process was completed, in January 2020 the team started editing the film . Because of the Covid pandemic, the editing and post production process was delayed several times over the coming two years but the film was finally completed in April 2022.
Directors Tommaso Colognese, Vanna Hem and Pa Vann posing with the new LSC sign.
Team member Amas and co-director Vanna Hem
Supporting the Lotus Sports Club
The Lotus Sports Club and its members will benefit from the visibility and recognition opportunities that this film will provide them. Our goal is that through this film the team will get connected to more organisations that are willing to support it on the long term. Pa Vann has expressed in many occasions his wish to have a visiting foreign coach coming to Cambodia and training the players. The players would love instead to be able to play abroad. We want to make sure that these wishes can become a reality and want to create a fund for the club, supporting study wishes of the team members and material support to the Lotus Sports Club and its members.
The Lotus Sports Club football team in Kampong Chhnang
LGBTQ+ Community in Cambodia
In Cambodia LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination from their families, community, and society. They can face stigma if they “come out” and live openly. LGBTQ+ individuals are restrained to limited economic opportunities and in order to acquire access to work, often they need to hide their sexuality and gender identity. Such contextual circumstances affects LGBTQ+ people in their road to self-acceptance.
However things are evolving fast in Cambodia: step by step, the social and public climate seems to be changing, and moving in a positive direction for LGBTQ+ people, despite the challenging political and human rights situation. A new generation of young LGBTQ+ people is not afraid to bring their stories and fight for acceptance into the public domain. Emerging activists and organizations need more support and communication tools, so they can serve as role models for others in the same situation. This will enable the community (like RoCK and the Lotus Sport Club themselves) to better communicate with the general public, where unawareness and ignorance about the diversity among the LGBTQ+ group is still prevalent.
Lotus Sports Club will bring empowering stories about the LGBTQ+ community to the general public in Cambodia and beyond. Such positive insight in diversity and tolerance will be essential in giving Cambodian society a better understanding of this minority group and help fighting any discrimination towards it. With Lotus Sports Club, the Cambodian LGBTQ+ community will have an important tool for instilling self-acceptance, generating discussions, breaking down barriers among their members and displaying positive role models to be inspired by.
RoCK – Rainbow Community Kampuchea
Cambodian LGBTQ+ organization RoCK has been closely involved in the project from the start. During the post-production phase RoCK worked closely with us, ensuring that the content of the film, its translations, and narrative choices were respectful and faithful of the community and of the subjects involved. RoCK’s involvement is also essential in making sure that the film and its important subjects will be able to reach a bigger audience in Cambodia than the LGBTQ+ crowd only.
The Creative and Production Team:
Producer/Writer/Director: Vanna Hem
Born in 1984, Cambodian documentary filmmaker Vanna Hem has established himself as one of the leading voices in Cambodia in the arena of social and LGBTQ+ films. His credits include the short-form documentaries “Lives Under the Red Lights”, “Karma” and “Where Do I Belong?” which have all been selected in many local and international film festivals. Since 2015, Vanna has been working on his first feature-length documentary Lotus Sports Club, while shooting videos for many other NGOs. He currently lives in Phnom Penh.
Producer/DOHN’s founder: Robert Witlox
Founder and coordinator of Document Our History Now, Robert Witlox has worked as a health and welfare professional and advocate for LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV in the Netherlands for the last 25 years. He was Manager Director of the Dutch HIV association for 13 years. He founded DOHN in 2013 and since then he has worked as a freelance project manager and producer of various storytelling projects. He currently lives in Amsterdam.
Producer/Writer/Co-director: Tommaso Colognese
Born in 1974 in Italy, Tommaso Colognese is an independent filmmaker and producer based in London. After studying filmmaking at UCLA Extension in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, Colognese has been living and working between Italy, England and the USA. His credits across the production department include major motion pictures (Nine, Inception, Hugo, First They Killed My Father, and The Breadwinner among others), independent projects such as the documentaries Suddenly Last Winter, The Labeque Way and Religulous and the award- winning sci-fi short The Nostalgist. Lotus Sports Club is his feature film directorial debut.
Writer: Martina Serafin
Martina is an Italian screenwriter, currently working as a freelance consultant for both independent documentaries and mainstream series. Her credits include successful Italian TV programs and documentaries. Her storytelling is often about youth subcultures and LGBTQ+ rights. She is based between Rome and Milan.
Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) was created in 2009 by Cambodian LGBTQ+ activists to raise awareness on Cambodian LGBTQI+ people rights. www.rockcambodia.org
A change-maker and human rights researcher, Céline is the former technical advisor for the NGOs RoCK and Destination Justice for which she co-organised the 2017 ILGA-Asia Regional Conference, published several reports and educational videos. After living and working seven years in Cambodia, Céline is now based in France where she is finishing her PhD at Aix-Marseille University.
Valeria started her film career in corporate films and documentaries before moving into independent feature films. She worked her way up through the ranks of production, eventually undertaking roles working on big budget studio feature films for Warner Brothers, Universal and Disney. In her role at Pathe as Production Executive, from 2014 to 2019, Valeria helped to oversee and support each production from development through to distribution. She is currently working as a freelance production consultant and independent producer.
Composer: Joeri Pronk
The beautiful score of Lotus Sports Club has been composed by the talented London-based Dutch electronic musician and composer Joeri Pronk. Visit his website to listen to more of his evocative music: www.joeripronk.com