The Berkshire International Film Festival is celebrating its 16th birthday this year, and to do that, we’d like to honor some of our new filmmakers. For our Filmmaker Four article series, we sent some of our BIFF first-timers the same set of four questions—the answers, of course, are delightfully different.
After graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2003, Joel worked for the groundbreaking Air America Radio network, helping produce a show hosted by Rachel Maddow, before she began her work as a host at MSBNC, and worked alongside such talents as Mark Maron, Chuck D. and Al Franken.
In 2005, Joel was uprooted from his hometown of Brooklyn, when he was hired as a reporter for the International Herald Tribune in Bangkok, fulfilling his lifelong dream of living and working abroad as a journalist, and he stayed in the kingdom of Thailand for 12 years. During his time there, he worked as the regional correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter before moving on to producing broadcast news pieces and short documentaries, which aired internationally on a variety of channels including CNN and the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT World), and his work was screened at international film festivals such as the Bangkok World Film Festival and the International Tribal Film Festival in Bhopal, India. Joel also worked as a media studies professor at Thailand’s two most prominent universities for ten years.
In 2011, during the Great Flood of Bangkok, Joel left the city to find safe haven and travelled to the neighboring country of Cambodia, where he came across a school for the arts, Phare Ponleu Selpak, located in a village outside the small city of Battambang. It was there that he saw a performance put on by students who were part of the “social circus” program, and he immediately knew he had to make a film about what he saw. He spent the next eight years working on the project that eventually would become his first feature film, “Cirque du Cambodia.”
After 12 years of living abroad, Joel moved back to the U.S. in 2017 after accepting a lecturing job at American University. Now based in Washington D.C., Joel is committed to making films and telling stories with a social justice angle using his vast experience as a foreign correspondent, and is committed to getting a wide release for “Cirque du Cambodia,” which he finally recently completed.
His film, Cirque du Cambodia, is part of BIFF 2022.
What was your first experience on a film set?
As a documentary filmmaker, I’ve yet to have an experience on an actual film set!
What was the first film you directed/wrote?
Cirque du Cambodia is my first feature-length film, but I’ve made short documentary films previously. The first one I directed was “Crystal Power,” which was about a Thai transgender woman who stuck up for her rights after being discriminated against, and her experience helped make a change in the Thai constitution.
Who is your favorite filmmaker?
That’s a tough one. But Coen Bros., Kurosawa, Herzog, and Scorsese.
What are you working on that no one knows about?
I am currently producing shorter TV features on the non-political aspects of Washington DC, focusing on the do-gooders, nonprofits and fascinating things to do and see in and around DC, where I currently reside. I am also working on a long-term project about the cross-section of art and accommodations for people with disabilities that I hope will be the premise of my second feature-length documentary.