Every filmmaker hopes that their work will be successful and reach a worldwide audience. That’s a hope that has come true for Christian documentary maker Simon Ives, for his award-winning film Milk and Honey, as he explains to Jen Vuk.
As a first-time documentary maker, why did you want to make this particular story?
We have our own organisation in Cambodia, the English School and Community Centre, and Milk and Honey tells the inspiring story of a young Australian couple, Dan and Renuka Brooker, who are now running it.
The film articulates our vision in a way that would have been impossible to do as an outside observer. There are some beautiful moments in Milk and Honey that are glimpses of the future, and for me making the film helped clarify our vision and strategies. It’s also personal, as Renuka is my wife’s sister.
What’s the story behind the title?
The name Milk and Honey is a reference to the wilderness in Exodus, and the idea of a promised land. For many, Cambodia is a wilderness, but our vision is to see Cambodians discover God’s promises, and their own land of milk and honey.
There’s a lot of work to do, in a country that’s still scarred from war and genocide. We’re currently focused on developing internship programs for volunteers, short-term mission trip experiences and growing the team of long-term volunteers in Cambodia. Doing that gives us more capacity to inspire our Cambodian staff and students to find creative ways to make a difference in their community.
What challenges did you face in making the film?
The fact that I had no crew or team, and had to do everything from shooting, sound and editing, and all the other tasks involved with producing an hour-length film, made it a huge undertaking. I know it was God’s strength that enabled me to work full-time during the day, and edit through the night for six months in order to complete the film. There were plenty of times I felt overwhelmed, but I was determined to finish.
What do you think is Milk and Honey’s greatest strength?
Its approach of empowering middle- to upper-class Cambodians to use their influence, education and potential to deal with social issues such as poverty and corruption in their own country. Teaching English is just the initial point of connection and community, and it gives us the opportunity to foster creativity and initiative among our students, build relationships and lead them into an authentic relationship with Jesus. The really exciting part is seeing what they accomplish as a result.
How has winning the ‘Most Inspirational Documentary’ at the International Christian Film Festival in Orlando, US changed your life?
Before we made the documentary, we tried to run the organisation our way, with our own resources and our own ideas. My wife and I were exhausted; we had run out of funds and ideas and had very little support.
Despite feeling this way, we felt compelled to make the film, and two weeks later we were on a plane to Cambodia to shoot. Receiving this award feels like God saying, ‘See what I can do, when you surrender control to me, and do things my way?’ The outcome from the film festival is distribution of the documentary in the United States and Canada, which gives the film massive exposure.
What would you do differently if there’s a next time?
Logically there’s a lot I would do differently, like working with a crew, a plan and a decent budget. There’s no right way to do this, no formula, and another film would probably be a different experience. I just want to continue to do things God’s way.
What’s next on your horizon?
My horizon is seeing more of the Milk and Honey vision fulfilled, and having people watch the film on our website, www.milkandhoney.asia.