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Diaspora: Sonadie San, Franco-Khmer photographer and filmmaker...and strong in her convictions

Dear readers, today I'm talking to you about Franco-Khmer photographer and director Sonadie San. A woman of strong convictions and multidisciplinarity, she proudly represents the Asian community, which she strives to bring to the fore in all her projects.

Sonadie San. Photo supplied
Sonadie San. Photo supplied

From her childhood in Lognes (Paris region) to an atypical life path where chance encounters created unforgettable memories, she confides in Cambodge Mag her personal path, her doubts, her memories, but also her professional career and her projects. A truly extraordinary woman, whom we are delighted to introduce to you from an intimate angle.

You grew up in Lognes and Khmer culture was very much a part of your upbringing, particularly through dance. Do you have any anecdotes on this subject?

I danced from the age of 3 until I was 15. Wonderful memories at the Pagode de Vincennes, where I played most of the leading roles.

Around the age of 10, you began to ask yourself some questions, and a confrontation arose with your mother. Can you explain?

My physique was different from that of other Asians. A friend convinced me of my potential mixed race, but I was intrigued to ask my mother, who denied it.

Around the age of 17, I had what you might call an "identity breakthrough". What did you decide to do then?

I learned that my father wasn't my biological father and, devastated, I ran away.

Childhood. Photo supplied
Childhood. Photo supplied

Around the age of 21, armed with a backpack and a lot of courage, you embarked on your 1st trip to Khmer Srok. Tell us about your first days.

My identity crisis had reached its peak, and the breakdown in my relationship with my adoptive father prompted me to set off and discover the Srok. I was in for a real sensory shock, my whole body feeling the country from the moment I set foot on the ground. I knew I had arrived "at home".

A mysterious event occurred on the 1st evening

An inexplicable feeling occurred during the night: I felt my spirit leave my body to go and meet my maternal grandmother. The vision goes as far as her message to guide me on the perilous journey of my quest for my origins.

Then you meet your uncle and he sees something: what does he guess?

He immediately senses what happened during my trance state and tells me I've met my grandmother.

Then, by chance, you meet a previously unknown lady in Siem Reap, who takes you in for a while. What extraordinary things did you discover during this meeting?

I met a woman monk by chance on my way to Siem Reap, whose first exchange with me was to share a meal in her house, a meal that turned into an unexpected two-week stay, during which a number of astounding revelations were made. In the course of our daily exchanges, this monk turns out to know my adoptive father, whom she considers her savior during the Khmer Rouge era!

Tell us about your general impressions of your stay in Cambodia (reconnection, etc.)

Cambodia was the most fluid, enjoyable and powerful period of my life. Every second spent in the country reminded me of the necessity and obviousness of being there. I found my place there.

On your return to France, you decide to renew ties with the man who raised you. What did you do to make this happen?

In collusion with my mother, we organize a reunion, necessary after all these years of separation, and I take advantage of the opportunity to tell her about my stay and my extraordinary encounters, linked to her past.

Sonadie San. Photo supplied
Sonadie San. Photo supplied

At the age of 28, you were admitted to the Frédéric Jacquot school after passing a competitive entrance exam, and you went straight into your 2nd year. What does your family think?

At first glance, they were opposed. But having already completed a university course that suited them, they can only accept my decision.

When you were writing your first play, what did you realize during casting?

I realized how difficult it was for a minority ethnic group in France to find work as an actor. This situation is real and extends to the whole audiovisual world. I've also discovered a passion for coaching.

Tell us how you became a coach

Right from my first jobs, I felt the need and pleasure to train my colleagues. This probably innate vocation continued naturally with my theater work.

You later moved to Canada. What are your best memories and experiences of this three-year stay?

My best memory is of living there, but also of coaching actress Shelby Jean Baptiste after she landed her first role in the film Scratch.

Shooting. Photo supplied
Shooting. Photo supplied

Can you tell us a little about your experience in Brazil and the Orichas?

This trip is primarily due to the selection of my first short film for the Festi France-Brazil festival. The aim, when a filmmaker is selected, is to spend five months in the country in order to pass on their knowledge and experience.

This extraordinary experience took me to no fewer than 70 cities in five months.

I discovered the legend of the Orichas and their culture. This unexpected immersion led me to take part in rituals and become totally immersed in these extraordinary traditions.

One day, your vocation as a filmmaker became obvious. What have you achieved?

When I returned to France in 2016, following my various experiences, this profession became obvious to me. It represents what now suits me best.

I produce :

- Open your eyes

- Ouropreto (Brazil)

- Rap de vaincre

- Médusa, a documentary film

⁃ currently finishing Le Souffle, my latest film in progress

My best memory is of living there, but also of coaching actress Shelby Jean Baptiste after she landed her first role in the film Scratch.


⁃ I'm also writing my next film based on school dropouts.

⁃ In particular, I've just finished another short film entitled Le lièvre étoilé as well as a feature film: Le soleil du Manguier.

You're present through many causes and social movements. Which ones are they?

I'm mainly involved with the Instagram page THE ASIAN SUSPECTS, whose mission is to showcase Franco-Asian talent. An effective means and a personal initiative to bridge the visibility gap of the Asian community.

At the same time, I'm working as a photographer with Amanda, to produce a photo exhibition, again with the aim of highlighting Asian physiques, and by Asian photographers.

Finally, could you tell us a few words about Le Soleil du Manguier?

This feature-length film is a personal, even initiatory and intimate quest. The subject is my adoptive father, and I hope that this film will demonstrate all the love I have for him.

Interview by Chantha R (Françoise Framboise)


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