‘Gem’ of a doc­u­men­tary de­buts here

Hamil­ton na­tive Mark Bochsler is wow­ing crit­ics, au­di­ences with ‘Sur­viv­ing Boka­tor’

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

Per­haps the most ea­gerly awaited fea­ture of the Hamil­ton Film Fes­ti­val — on now and con­clud­ing late Sun­day — is Mark Bochsler’s fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary film, which ba­si­cally un­cov­ers for the world out­side Cam­bo­dia the mys­te­ri­ous re­vival of an an­cient mar­tial arts tra­di­tion there thought to be ex­tinct.

What makes the story of the mar­tial art, called Boka­tor, even more com­pelling, giv­ing a twist of con­flict and irony, is the bat­tle be­ing waged be­tween two gen­er­a­tions of Cam­bo­di­ans over its re­dis­cov­ery.

“Sur­viv­ing Boka­tor” is Mark’s first full-length doc­u­men­tary. And its screen­ing in Hamil­ton — at the Zoetic The­atre, 526 Con­ces­sion St., on Sun­day, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m. — is its Cana­dian de­but.

It has been get­ting high praise in cities like Philadel­phia, Wash­ing­ton and Austin, Tex.

Raised in Hamil­ton and a grad of McMaster and Mo­hawk, Mark is an ac­com­plished pho­tog­ra­pher, cin­e­matog­ra­pher and CBC cam­era­man, turned film­maker.

“We’re thrilled to première in my home­town,” he said. “We did the in­ter­na­tional première in Austin to a huge turnout and it was re­ally well-re­ceived.”

For Mark, the re­sponse has been es­pe­cially grat­i­fy­ing. He has grown with the mak­ing of the film, which took eight years of rig­or­ous work to com­plete.

It be­gan in a kind of puff of serendip­ity.

“My part­ner (pro­ducer San­dra Leuba) and I were on a work hol­i­day in South­east Asia think­ing about a story on mar­tial arts,” when the ques­tion arose: Why does Cam­bo­dia have no In­dige­nous mar­tial arts?

They dis­cov­ered, al­most by ac­ci­dent, the cor­rec­tive an­swer — that in­deed there is a tra­di­tion called Boka­tor — but it had been all but ex­tin­guished by the Kh­mer Rouge. So few knew.

Says Mark: “Dig­ging deeper, we found one of the re­main­ing grand mas­ters,” a sur­vivor of the 1970s geno­cide, try­ing to re­sus­ci­tate Boka­tor. The game was afoot. Mark fol­lowed him closely — for years — and the straight line of the nar­ra­tive was in­trigu­ingly kinked by the ten­sion be­tween him and his fol­low­ers.

“He must pre­serve the art in the youth. The film gets to the core of the gen­er­a­tional frac­ture be­tween geno­cide sur­vivors de­ter­mined to re­vive and youth look­ing to forge a new path.”

The film, pro­duced by San­dra, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Loy Te and Kongchak Pic­tures, Cam­bo­dia, tells a pow­er­ful story with rel­e­vance and ap­pli­ca­ble lessons for ev­ery cul­ture. And it her­alds the pres­ence of a promis­ing new fea­ture film tal­ent in Mark, who has put in a stun­ning first ef­fort.

Fes­ti­val direc­tor Nathan Fleet calls it a “gem of a doc­u­men­tary.”

To many here, the Bochsler name con­jures mem­o­ries of the Bochsler broth­ers pho­to­graphic “dy­nasty” (if I might), started by the late Joe Bochsler — the el­dest — and his broth­ers Tom and Al (Mark’s father), and con­tin­ued through some of their sons.

They’ve done an in­cred­i­ble job over the decades, chron­i­cling this area, cap­tur­ing it in im­ages.

Touch­ingly, Mark ded­i­cated his film to “the cre­ative in­flu­ence

of my un­cles, Joe and Tom, and my father, Al­bert.”


Mark Bochsler, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker and video jour­nal­ist for the CBC, is get­ting rave re­views for his new film, “Sur­viv­ing Boka­tor.”


A 1986 photo shows the Bochsler “dy­nasty,” from top, John, Joe Jr., Al­bert, Tom and Joe Sr.


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