Lost Child

Sayon's Journey

Broadcast Agreement Announced

Channel Thirteen/WNET will serve as the presenting station for Lost Child ~ Sayon's Journey produced by the Gardner Documentary Group, to be distributed to American Public Television. Broadcast of the program is anticipated for Spring 2015 on public television stations throughout the United States. April 17 marks the 40th anniversary when the Khmer Rouge moved into Phnom Penh and overtook the government of Lan Nol. April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. WNET has suggested it to the PBS stations for May, which is Pacific Heritage Month.

UPDATE:  The schedule for Lost Child PBS broadcasts is now available.  Click on Broadcasts and Screenings to get the latest information.


Sayon Soeun and Director Janet Gardner were interviewed in Conversations with Allan Wolper last fall on Newark's jazz station WBGO 88.3.  The broadcast will be repeated Tuesday, August 26, 2014, at 7:30 pm.  If you miss it, click here to Listen to the podcast of the interview.


For a synopsis of "Lost Child ~ Sayon's Journey", click here.

A movie revival for capital city

Trenton Film Festival

Joyce J. Persico for the Trenton NJ TIMES 

DATE: June 18, 2014

Even though the city hasn't had an operating movie theater since the Mayfair closed its doors nearly 40 years ago, the Trenton Film Festival is powering up for a return to downtown this weekend after a six-year hiatus.

Originally designed in 2004 as a yearly event to lure locals and visitors to the city with films that couldn't be seen outside the festival circuit, it was an ambitious and successful venture that last was held in 2008, just as it had achieved a footing in the downtown area.

Patrons walked from the N.J. State Museum on West State Street to Gallery 125 on South Warren Street and back to The Contemporary on West State Street as they roamed from one viewing venue to another. There was no violence. People wined and dined outside the State Museum and artistic expression was the glue that held it all together.

Tomorrow through Sunday, the Trenton Film Society will host a roster of 30 films at the Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front St., as it attempts to recapture a sense of vibrancy in the city through the medium that transports viewers to foreign places, intergalactic adventures and inside the hearts of people who have managed to endure despite their circumstances.

Two featured films in the festival speak to the resiliency of the human spirit, one dedicated to the rebuilding of Long Beach Island after Hurricane Sandy swept away so much of its history and future away. "Landfall: The Eyes of Sandy" will close the festival with its 6:15 p.m. showing on Sunday. Directed by A.D. Pearson, it concentrates on Stafford Township and Long Beach Island as residents struggle to rebuild their lives and their homes after the October 2012 storm.

All proceeds from the film will go to a nonprofit that has continued to provide aid for families, first responders and businesses in the area.

"Lost Child -- Sayon's Journey" is a different type of film about survival. It will be shown on Sunday at 4 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer session with its director-producer, Rocky Hill resident Janet Gardner, who traveled to Cambodia to research and film it. 

A bittersweet documentary running 57 minutes, "Lost Child" details the story of Sayon Soeun, a child who was taken from his family at age 6 by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and forced to become a child soldier during the ruling Communist Party's four-year reign in the late 1970s.

His solitary journey eventually took him to Lowell, Mass., where, speaking no English and still in shock over what he had seen in war, he was adopted by an American family. Even in a town whose population was 25 to 35 percent Cambodian, Sayon's loneliness was nearly tangible and the person he most identified with was his 2-year-old American sister, who knew as little language as he did.

The film documents his journey back to Cambodia as he searches for the brothers, sisters and parents he left behind.

An award-winning film-maker who liked the idea of showing her film at the Mill Hill Playhouse after attending a Trenton Film Society screening of Oscar-nominated shorts there and then dining out locally, Gardner is an example of the type of talent this year's event will feature.

Gardner first ventured into filming the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide in "Dancing Through Death," an award-winning documentary on the classical dancers who survived the Khmer Rouge. Broadcast on PBS in 2007, it echoes Sayon's own efforts to preserve his culture in the young Cambodians who come to his classes in Lowell, where he still resides.

Gardner's pre-filmmaking career included a long list of journalism jobs at newspapers, including the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Cleveland Plain dealer and the Boston Globe.

She founded The Gardner Documentary Group to produce educational documentaries in 1990.

Her research took her to tours of Cambodia and Vietnam. It was on one of her trips that she met a translator whom Sayon married. Eventually she became an assistant producer on the film, Gardner said.

"Sayon was very quiet when he first came to the United States. He had PTSD and didn't talk very much," Gardner said. "As you can see from the film, the families he visited had conflicting stories to tell, so he asked for a DNA test to be sure he found his family. He was only a child when he was taken from his family, so he couldn't remember much."

Hoping to show her film on PBS stations in 2015, Gardner sees "Lost Child" as a way for festival audiences to "understand how children are still being robbed of their childhoods in places like Africa and Burma" and hopes that "they will become angry enough to do something about it."

A pair of films about Trenton will help fill out the film festival lineup.

The documentary "This Trenton Life" follows a Passage Theatre production by Trenton area youth and "The Trenaissance: A Better Way for the Capital" is a documentary short that highlights positive changes within the city.

For tickets and a complete list of films at the festival, visit trentonfilmsociety.org

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Janet Gardner, Director/Co-Producer, at the Trenton Film Festival 2014

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Left to Right: Janet Gardner, John Richie, Director of Shell Shocked, and David Henderson, Director of the Trenton Film Festival

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David Henderson flanked by award winners John Richie and Janet Gardner

2/7/2014 NYC Premiere

Lost Child – Sayon’s Journey, a film exploring the Cambodian genocide and its lasting impact through the eyes of a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, will be shown at the Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square, Third Avenue and 7th Street, at 7 p.m., Friday, February 7. Admission is free.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Sayon Soeun, whose story is told in the film, director/co-producer Janet Gardner of the Gardner Documentary Group, and co-producer Sopheap Theam.

10/13/2013 Lost Child to Premiere at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Sayon’s Journey, an award-winning documentary about a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who bore witness to the notorious Cambodian genocide, will have its Philadelphia premiere at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, Sunday, Nov. 17.

The screening, followed by a discussion with the filmmakers, begins at 3:30 p.m. at the International House, 3701 Chestnut St.

For more information about the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival can be found at www.phillyasianfilmfest.org.

CONFRONTING THE PAST: Sayon Soeun was abducted at the age of 6 and forced to become a child-soldier under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.

His journey included transition to an orphanage in a refugee camp, then adoption by an American family in Connecticut in 1983, at age 14.

Soeun eventually settled in Lowell, which has a large Cambodian population, and became a community activist. He serves as executive director of Light of Cambodian Children, a nonprofit seeking to improve the lives of children and immigrant families.

A new documentary of his life, “Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey” is being screened at Middlesex Community College in Lowell as part of its international film series on April 18.

Soeun will conduct a post-screening discussion.

After more than three decades, Soeun made contact with relatives he assumed were dead. He traveled to Cambodia to search for the truth about his family and to come to terms with the atrocities he saw and experienced as a child.

His sister-in-law Sopheap Theam, whose family escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide and emigrated to Connecticut, co-produced the film and traveled to Cambodia with Soeun.

In the film, he tells his story as he confronts his past, taking the viewer from the battlefields to the refugee camps and the challenges of resettlement.

The screening begins at 6 p.m. in the college’s Federal Building Assembly Room, 50 Kearney Square, on the Lowell campus. It is open to the public and free.



The Daily Princetonian

Staff Writer

How much do we really know about the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s? We know of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerrilla organization responsible for the deaths of over two million Cambodian lives. We know of Pol Pot, the party’s cruel leader. But we know very little about how that tragedy is still affecting Cambodians today. How do former child soldiers in the Khmer Rouge cope with the experiences of their past?

Princeton-area filmmaker Janet Gardner explores this hidden side of history in her new documentary film entitled Lost Child – Sayon’s Journey, co-produced by Sopheap Theam. Hit the jump for a full review of the film. 

The film’s subject, Sayon Soeun, is a Cambodian man who was forced into the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier when he was only 6 years old. He currently lives in Lowell, MA with his wife and child, directing a charity called Light of Cambodian Children. While he is a physical survivor of unimaginable tragedy, he still struggles to reconcile his emotions.

When he was young, Sayon was told not to wander far from home. One day, he saw a military truck full of kids and decided to take a ride with them, believing he’d return home by the evening. Sayon was instead taken to a children’s camp run by the Khmer Rouge and never saw his family again. At a very young age, his knowledge of the world was molded into an isolated existence, outside of which he knew nothing.

After the Khmer Rouge’s descent into disarray several years after his recruitment, Sayon eventually found himself in a Thai refugee camp, malnourished and alone. At the age of 15, his name was chosen in an adoption process, and he found himself in the home of a loving American family. He has been grappling with hard questions about his early life ever since. One of eight, Sayon wonders if any of his siblings are still alive. He wonders what happened to his parents and whether or not they abandoned him or ever tried to find him after his recruitment.


Gardner’s film documents Sayon’s trip back to Cambodia as he attempts to find some answers while rationalizing the realities of his involvement as a child in the Khmer Rouge. He visits six people who all claim to be his brother or sister and, while skeptical of their contradicting claims, he does not want to disappoint them. He listens to their stories with cautious hope, learning things about his parents that complicate his feelings toward them. He visits a heartbreaking mass grave, a horrifying tower of skulls and bones. He visits various museum sites, seeing himself in photographs of other child soldiers, both as a victim and a perpetrator. He eventually obtains DNA samples from his potential siblings, the results of which are revealed at the film’s conclusion, and returns to the U.S. after a poignant journey in Cambodia.

How is he supposed to feel about a tragedy in which he was complicit as a youth? You get the sense that he carefully oscillates between forgiveness and regret for his actions, unable to fully experience one without losing perspective on the other. It is an impossible management of complicated feelings of responsibility and helplessness, to which the only real solution may be to continue experiencing his new, happier life in America.


The documentary is refreshingly honest in its depiction of Sayon’s journey. Music is used largely for cultural effect, not excessive melodrama. The emotional power of the piece is intrinsic in the reality of Sayon’s situation. The film offers many answers, but introduces even more questions about the ethics of war, including the effectiveness of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a court established to try the most senior, most accountable members of the Khmer Rouge.

The film is educational and effective in its goals, presenting the journey of a brave man discovering hard truths about his lost family, his past as a child soldier, and the extent of his own fortitude as he looks to a brighter future.

For more information about Lost Child – Sayon’s Journey, visit the documentary’s website here.



From “Truth on Film,” Jan. 23, 2013, centraljersey.com, Anthony Stoeckert, author

Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey, by Princeton filmmaker Janet Gardner, will be screened Jan. 27 at the New Jersey Film Festival.

The movie tells the story of a man named Sayon who was born in Cambodia near the rise of the Khmer Rouge.  He was taken at the age of 6 and made a child soldier, then later adopted by a family in the United States when he was 13.

Now living in Massachusetts, Sayon receives word of people who might be his family in Cambodia and sets out to meet them and find out if they’re really his relatives.

“This film takes us back to Cambodia and leads us to the family and its struggle to find its members,” says Ms. Gardner, “and Sayon’s struggle to understand what happened.  He has a lot of questions about his own family and his roots.”

The film captures Sayon’s journey to Cambodia as he meets people who may be his siblings, uncles, nephews, nieces and “grandchildren” (great-nephews and great-nieces).

“We all want to know where we came from, who our parents are and our siblings, hence the journey of the title,” Ms. Gardner says.  “It’s a journey of self-discovery.”

The camera rolls as Sayon asks the people to provide samples for a DNA test.  Ms. Gardner weaves some mystery into the story by not revealing whether the people Sayon meets are actually his family until he opens the results of those tests at his home in Massachusetts.

“When I first knew him, he wasn’t comfortable talking about his situation at all,” Ms. Gardner says.  “Gradually, over about two years, when we were doing some shooting in Lowell, I interviewed him a couple of times, and then I think he thought it was important.”

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Sayon as a teenager in Middletown, CT