Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts proudly presents the world premiere of Giant Steps, a documentary about how dance is changing the lives of at-risk kids in Cambodia, on Monday, November 24 at 7PM in the Folino Theatre. Completed in conjunction with Chapman University School of Law and Chapman’s Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the film is the first product of Chapman’s new interdisciplinary documentary program, which sends teams of students around the world to profile leading human rights and development organizations. The screening is free and open to the public and includes a Q-and-A with student filmmakers and a reception with live Cambodian music and ethnic cuisine following the film.

“We are very excited to showcase the first documentary in this innovative program,” says Dodge College Dean Bob Bassett. “This interdisciplinary collaboration is a wonderful illustration of how students can work together in unique ways to help build awareness for important global issues.”

Giant Steps focuses on two arts-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that use the power of dance to help provide hope and courage to young Cambodians. Chapman students traveled to Cambodia to film the organizations and their students at work.

The first, Khmer Arts Academy, is led by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, who founded the dance troupe when she immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in 1991. Growing up in the mid-1970s, Shapiro witnessed firsthand the tragic consequences of her country’s civil war, as many of her family and friends were killed by the Khmer Rouge. At the conclusion of the war, Shapiro enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Phen and rigorously trained in traditional Khmer dancing. In 1991, she immigrated to Southern California, where she continued to study dance at UCLA. Now internationally recognized, Shapiro and her husband, John, work tirelessly to preserve and continue this fascinating art form and have established locations of their academy throughout Cambodia and in the United States. Shapiro’s efforts have helped re-establish the art form in her native Cambodia and are supporting a whole new generation of Cambodian classical dancers.

The second organization, Tiny Toones, is the “passion project” of Sobil (“KK”) Tuy. KK’s family fled the Khmer Rouge armies in the late 1970s, barely making it alive to a refugee camp in Thailand. Once there, the United States government granted them visas and his family started a new life in Long Beach. As a teenager, he became a member of the infamous Crips street gang and struggled with drugs. His illegal activities led to jail time and eventually his permanent deportation in 2002. Upon his return to Cambodia, he witnessed other young kids also facing the similar perils of drugs, crime and gang life. Determined to help others avoid his troubled path, Tuy reached out to these youth through breakdancing, an art form he had mastered in the United States. Tiny Toones has become a far-reaching school and relief organization for hundreds of Cambodian children, and has received money from the United Nations and many other international groups.

Shot throughout Cambodia in the summer of 2008, Giant Steps was created by Chapman students Zac Petrillo (MFA in Film Production, '10), Brock Carter (BFA in Film Production, '09), Erika Cohn (BFA in Film Production, '09), Emily Wilkinson (JD, '10), and Sasha Milonova (BA in Peace Studies, '09), who were led by faculty members Professor Jeff Swimmer and Dr. John Hall. Prior to the trip, the students spent the spring semester researching the area and organizations and the legal and cultural implications of their work. They spent fall semester working on the editing, post-production, marketing and distribution of the film.


Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, home to 1,100 students, is comprised of the Sodaro-Pankey Undergraduate School of Media, offering undergraduate degrees in film production, screenwriting, public relations and advertising, film studies, digital arts, and television and broadcast journalism; the Conservatory of Motion Pictures, offering graduate degrees in film production, film and television producing, screenwriting, production design and film studies. Marion Knott Studios, the $42-million, 76,000-square-foot home of the Dodge College, opened in fall 2006.

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