Tuesday, October 12, 2021 at 7pm
Spencer Nakasako and Sokly Ny's a.k.a. Don Bonus

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Matt Wolf

a.k.a. Don Bonus, Spencer Nakasako and Sokly Ny, 1995, digital projection, 55 mins

In 1995, Cambodian-born Sokly “Don Bonus” Ny met filmmaker Spencer Nakasako at a workshop held by a youth development center in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. The nonprofit had engaged Nakasako as an artist in residence; his job was, as he put it, “teaching Southeast Asian street kids how to make movies about their own lives.” An outgoing teenager, Ny immediately showed an affinity for videomaking, and Nakasako encouraged him to keep a camcorder diary. The results of a year of self-documentation unfold in the finished work, a.k.a. Don Bonus, as an emotionally wrenching chronicle of 90s adolescence. Episodes of high schoolers goofing around are here counterposed with the grim realities faced by Ny’s refugee family, still struggling to survive in the housing projects of Sunnyvale. “At first I thought, ‘It's gonna be simple,’ but it turned out to be very difficult for me," Ny remarks on camera. “To live my life and to think about videotaping at the same time, it’s very hard. And especially with my family. We’re from Cambodia and we’re pretty traditional. Talking about issues, about family secrets to the public, we don’t do that.” Since its premiere on public television, a.k.a. Don Bonus has become a classic of autoethnography. Resolutely unwilling to offer up a tv-friendly narrative of immigrant uplift, the film instead leaves the viewer with an unvarnished—and, significantly, unresolved—portrait of adulthood’s jagged edge.

“I discovered independent and personal documentaries on PBS’s groundbreaking series POV in the late 1990s as a teenager. At the time, there was a wave of interest in ‘youth media,’ a movement within nonprofits to combine media literacy education for young people with production training. As an outgrowth of that moment, I was invited by POV as an 18-year-old videomaker to be part of a ‘youth views’ focus group. As we previewed POV’s rich back catalog, my first title was a.k.a. Don Bonus. I had heard of essay films by middle-aged white men, and I was captivated by Sadie Benning’s radical teenage experiments with their Pixelvision camera, but the immediacy of eighteen-year-old Sokly Ny’s video diaries is a different type of personal filmmaking. Many documentary filmmakers talk about their work as a collaboration with their subjects, but Spencer Nakasako’s insistence on Ny’s agency as the author of his own story is a unique form of filmmaking as facilitation, and the result in a tender, contemplative, and necessarily raw depiction of teenage life.”

- MW


Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.