‘Gem’ of a documentary debuts here
Hamilton native Mark Bochsler is wowing critics, audiences with ‘Surviving Bokator’
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.