Q&A with “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure” Writer-Director A.M. Lukas
Born in Fargo at St. Luke’s hospital in 1982, she lived in North Dakota until she moved Pennsylvania with her parents when she was 8. Still, Fargo is credited as the home of her best childhood memories. Returning to Fargo to film was, as she described, “a dream come true.”
“One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure” is based on the true-story of Lukas’ mother Helena, who escaped persecution in communist Czechoslovakia to be resettled not in her bustling “dream city”of Manhattan, but in the unforgiving landscape of Fargo.
The film is about her need, as a refugee who escaped her bad situation, to help others in a similar position. “The film’s subject matter is incredibly timely, even urgent, considering the Trump administration’s divisive stance on refugees and immigration,” said Lukas, reflecting on the film.
Emily Mortimer in “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure”
Set in 1981, the film is steeped in the humor and visual quality of childhood memory and has been received positively by critics around the country. “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure” was an official opening-night selection of the 2019 , qualifying the film for an Oscar nomination. It also has received awards such as: “Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film” at the , also qualifying the film for an Oscar nod; “Best Screenplay” at the , and “Special Jury Prize: Best Screenwriting” from the Savannah College of Art and Design Film Festival.
A.M. Lukas will attend the Fargo premiere of “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure” at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8 at the Fargo Theatre. General admission tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets for students and seniors 55 and older are available for $3. The event is hosted by The and . Proceeds from the event will benefit Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.
Q: Why did you decide to tell this story?
I’ve always written with an extremely autobiographical bent. It’s one of the ways in which I make sense of the world and then hope that whatever sense I’ve made for myself will resonate with someone watching. That’s the beautiful game of making movies and telling stories in general, for me.
When the story came to me, I thought the fact that we were these European immigrants in Fargo was rich and specific. There was also the fact that my mom was spending so much of her time then helping these Cambodian families assimilate while carting around four kids of her own – I thought that made for a compelling character.
Was there a moment that compelled you to share this memory?
On the set of “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure”
North Dakota is in the midst of a blowback directed toward immigrants and former refugees. The state has tried to stop the resettlement of individuals, some local city officials continually spread misinformation about the diverse populations in our communities, and communities themselves have seen an uptick of hate crime directed toward immigrants and former refugees.
Is there something specific you hope your film can convey to the state’s leaders and community members?
Of course, I find this unfortunate and disheartening, being the child of
1. an immigrant who came to America so that his children would live in a place where their dreams had at least a chance of coming true, and
2. a political refugee who escaped a situation in her home country where there was no freedom of expression, religion, or speech, and found a haven in the United States.
Growing up with these parents instilled in me such a deep sense of gratitude for what America is about at its core: a land of freedom and unbridled possibility for humans of all kinds. It’s a nation founded upon tolerance, acceptance and the idea of a meritocracy: that is “if you work hard, you will be rewarded.” No matter what the color of your skin, your religion, which family you were born into or in which economic class you begin your journey, in America the idea is that you can move freely through a system that supports growth and change; you can change your fate and create your own destiny. Though the system is far from perfect, it’s produced so many beautiful stories of trajectories altered, and dreams realized.
s severing connection rather than fostering it is what I’m against, the concept that it’s better to distance ourselves from strangers rather than welcoming them is what I’m against, fear being the leading factor defining our actions rather than love is what I’m against; not the people who are right now falling on that side of a charged political climate for whatever reason.
If there’s something I’d like people to take from this film, it’s not a political statement, but the notion of our inherent oneness. It’s not something that can be intellectualized or proven, only something that can be deeply felt and known. And the big sky I think, can elicit that deep knowing in some of us.
Emily Mortimer in “One Cambodian Family, Please for My Pleasure”
Did your mother talk much about her escape from the communist in Czechoslovakia when you were growing up, or were they conversations that happened after adulthood? Did you understand as a child where her mother had come from? How did that knowledge influence you growing up / as an adult?
My mother’s story was like a spool of thread woven through the fabric of my childhood. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know the particulars of what she went through both living under a Communistregime and escaping it in order find her way to the United States. It didn’t hurt that it was a good story!
The escape across the border where they had to duck down in the car for fear of being shot at by border patrol (as well as the musician friends who hid their toddler children in drums in order to cross); the year spent in Italian refugee camps; the farmer boyfriends from the other side of the camp’s fence that my teenage mom and her sister were courted by; the citizenship party at an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattanthat they threw themselves when they became official …
These stories imbued my childhood with a sense of wonder and mystery. I felt very acutely the sense of another world being present within the Midwesternone I was living. Even now though, layers of my family history continue to reveal themselves, stories I haven’t heard surface all the time. It’s fun, and I find it so enriching to know everything I can.
My obsession with the North Dakota sky was something that started when I left the area at 8 years old and found myself transplanted to central Pennsylvania, where these densely wooded sort of low hill/mountains surround you everywhere you go. I immediately felt penned in and suffocated by that landscape – I’m sure it had a lot to do with the emotions and circumstances surrounding my little psyche at the time, but this thing about the big sky representing freedom and beauty and oneness stuck with me well into adulthood.
What was it like shooting your film in Fargo, North Dakota? What was it like returning “home” to capture this memory?
One of the coolest things personally, was the way I was able to reconnect with so many old friends and have them become not just helpful to the film, but integral members of the cast and crew. Marla McIntyre, Bob and Lona Getz, Dan Loegering, these were all characters from my childhood that never left my heart or my memories. They were the cool teenage friends of my siblings and the second parents in my life, respectively, and to have our paths cross again, this time under the context of getting to make something special together, and to squeeze them for all the Fargo connections, and all the vintage vans, and all the artistic talent with props and construction and thrift shopping for costumes that I could, (laughs) … it was one of the greatest joys and most purely fun occurrences of my life.
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