where the roots lie
A documentary film that follows the first and only female drum troupe in Cambodia who strive to push against gender and cultural norms by following their passion of playing the drums. Medha (Ma-tia) is met with both criticism and applause as they prove that a woman doesn’t have to remain “in her place” to make ends meet.
Where The Roots Lie is a story about the strength, resilience and power of women and their right to do what they choose despite the opposition they may face.
It isn’t against the law for women to play the drums in Cambodia, however; culturally speaking it is commonly frowned upon as many believe that the drum (skor tob) is too masculine of an instrument for a woman to play, believing that their arms will become too muscular, taking away from their femininity
Pair that with the belief that women simply cannot play the drums well since it requires a certain level of strength that they typically do not have.
Medha will be the first to admit that the physical strength required to play the drums has been one of their greatest challenges
which is why their commitment to tirelessly training and building that strength is one of the most inspiring aspects of their journey.
In addition to the physical challenges they must push through, there is widespread belief in Cambodia that there is no worth in playing the drums, as making a living as an artist is hard enough as it is, let alone doing it while playing an instrument “not fit for a woman.”
Some of the members of Medha have had to confront this deep rooted belief brought on by family, friends and community members who’ve challenged their desires to play sadly leading to strained relationships.
Cambodia is a vibrant country with many rich traditional art forms, art forms that were almost completely lost during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 – 1979.
One of the most impressive and inspiring things to see today is how Cambodia’s thriving art scene has proven to be a major source of healing from the country’s troubled past.
Medha is a flourishing breath of fresh air in a place that needs to continue to see this kind of courage and resilience, and especially from women.
The common theme when speaking with the members of Medha is how much joy they find in performing while playing the drums. The freedom to express themselves is something that brings them relief, confidence and so much happiness.
The drums are an extremely powerful instrument allowing them to release their fears and doubts, while lifting them up to a space of inspiration and possibility.
It isn’t easy for Medha to do what they have chosen to do, but it is their right as individuals and as artists and we are honored to be able to capture this part of their journey and share it with the world.
Meet Our Team
Directed by two women, Where The Roots Lie, aims to promote gender equality in the arts in a developing country. It is important to us that we also support the growing film community within the country, therefore, our crew is made up entirely of local Cambodian filmmakers.
Katy Harliss is an actor and filmmaker who comes to LA by way of an east coast childhood, a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, and a stint of Silicon Valley servitude. Meanwhile, she continued to pursue her life-long passion for acting by studying the Meisner Technique while also having worked on a number of independent projects in both the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets. Behind the camera, Katy directed all seven episodes of the web series The Couch, a dramedy about a conflicted psychology graduate student, which recently won Best Web Series at the Oniros Film Awards. As the daughter of a renowned piano technician and a Russian translator, Katy spent much of her childhood at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts and visiting family in St. Petersburg, Russia. This upbringing fostered a curiosity of cultures near and far and an appreciation of the power of artistic community. She aims to make work that shifts cultural perspectives while honoring the history and the individuals that make each society unique.
Tori La Desma
Born and raised in Santa Barbara, flamenco is what began Tori’s passion for performing which eventually led to acting. Tori began training with the Strasberg Method under Lorrie Hull and then transitioned to Meisner. She completed the two year Meisner training and the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio in Santa Monica and is always taking classes at the Lesly Kahn Studio to keep her craft fresh. To avoid getting bored and waiting to be cast in someone else’s production, she wrote, produced and acted in the half hour comedy pilot, “Barely Professional” and the short film, “The Pass,” both of which have ran the festival circuit with “The Pass” taking home “Best Drama” at the Female Filmmakers Fuse Festival. You can also see her soon on FX’s “Quarter Life Poetry,” which premiered at Sundance this year as well as multiple episodes in Season 4 of the YouTube series, “Total Eclipse.” This past year, Tori has been doing a lot of commercial work while traveling back and forth from LA to Cambodia to direct, “Where The Roots Lie.” With an equal passion for traveling/humanitarian work and filmmaking, directing something that addresses the healing power of art just felt like the perfect way to merge it all!
Meet our Cinematographer, NARIN Saobora, he goes by Bora. Bora has been in the film industry for the past eleven years. He has worked on various documentaries and feature films with Academy Award winning Cambodian director, Rithy Panh. In 2008 he did an Internship at Bophana Audio Visual Resource Center and is also a fellow of the Sundance Institute (USA), 2012-2013. He also worked as an assistant editor for Rithy Panh’s, Gibier d’élevage (2011), Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell (2010), and The Missing Picture (2013) as a special effects artist. Bora is also the cinematographer on the feature documentary, Red Clothes, directed by Lida Chan, which has won several prizes at festivals along the way