Bitter Melons

Chicago, Illinois | Film Short

Drama, Family

Thavary Krouch

2 Campaigns | Illinois, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $10,405 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

55 supporters | followers

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BITTER MELONS was born out of my love for Cambodian food and the need to explore pain as the catalyst for growth. In such dark times, the challenge is not letting pain and strife destroy us, but rather finding ways to transmute them into something beautiful that serves our healing.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

There is a general lack of Cambodian-American stories on screen. My mission is to write & direct films that focus on strong female protagonists, as well as highlight the Cambodian-American experience. BITTER MELONS fulfills this criteria: the protagonist is a female, Cambodian line cook.

The Story

In the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Thankfully, my cancer was treatable and curable with bi-weekly doses of chemotherapy. I remember spending most of that summer on the couch, fighting nausea and giving in to fatigue -- side effects of the chemo. Aside from binge watching TV, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about the fragility of life. I thought about unfulfilled dreams, people I still wanted to meet, the cultures I wanted to experience, and the films I had yet to make.


This stasis ultimately lead me to write BITTER MELONS. During cancer treatment, I was missing my mother's cooking and craving bitter melon soup -- a dish I grew up eating. My body wanted both comfort and healing. I also thought about my relationship to my father which had been spotty for most of my life. At that point, I had yet to tell him about my cancer diagnosis. I knew that making this film would be a way to address that rift, while paying homage to my ethnic heritage and exploring my fascination with the culinary world.



In my early 20s, I had a short stint as a busser in an Indianapolis restaurant. That experience was my introduction to the culinary world, allowing a glimpse into its many colorful characters. One of those colorful characters was Chef Richard Cottance who made a lasting impression on my life. He possessed a big heart that matched his big personality, spinning tales of his life as a boy growing up in England, his travels to distant lands and learning how to cook along the way. He died unexpectantly from a heart attack in 2007, the same year in which I moved to Chicago to attend film school. I dedicate this film to him, ever the rabble-rouser and adventurer who taught me what it meant to savor life.



BITTER MELONS derives from those personal experiences, influences, and love of Cambodian dishes. 


Finishing the Film

After recovering from chemotherapy, I hit the ground running towards BITTER MELONS. I spent 2016 writing, developing and finding seed money to atleast get part of it shot. Through the support of the Chicago film community, we were able to shoot the opening or first ACT of the script in late 2017. This is where YOU come in. We're counting on you to help us raise the funds to finish the rest of the film which takes place in a restaurant. Here are some production stills from our shoot of the opening/ACT I:



The Bigger Picture

This short film is a long time coming. I've made mostly documentaries, even though I love the narrative form. I knew I would eventually make a narrative film, but it had to be a story where I felt no other choice, but to make it. I felt this way about BITTER MELONS in that I simply had to make it. 


There is a general lack of Cambodian-American narratives on screen. If you were to ask me to name a film that depicts Cambodian-Americans as center of the narrative, I would come up empty handed. It's almost become a duty to make a film that other Cambodian-Americans can identify with and see themselves reflected back. A familiar story where the effects of war take its toll on families. A story where the mother is the rock, steady and firm but also the north star, guiding the way. A narrative where a female line cook has to overcome self-doubt and self-loathing in order to rise to the challenge and embrace more of her true self.


We need more films that highlight, front and center, characters who have been invisible for too long. We also need to showcase and amplify voices of women in male dominated fields, outliers who are striving for excellence and proving that they are equal if not better in skill and talent as their male peers. This is true in the film industry as it is in the culinary world. The making and the message of BITTER MELONS challenges the status quo, and is one more step towards change, healing, and a better vision of a future where there's room for everyone at the kitchen table.




Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Editing & Color

Costs $2,000

Funds would go towards paying our editor and a colorist.

Sound Mix & Composer

Costs $1,000

Funds would go towards paying our sound mixer and composer.

Cast Expenses

Costs $1,500

Funds will go towards paying our actors' travel, lodging and pay.

Pay Your People

Costs $3,000

Funds will go towards paying our talented and hardworking crew members.

Feed Your People

Costs $1,000

We'd like to hire a catering company to provide healthy craft services and meals.

Location Fees

Costs $1,500

Funds will go towards securing the restaurant location which is crucial to the remaining scenes.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

WRITER/DIRECTOR – Thavary Krouch graduated with an MFA in Writing & Directing from Columbia College Chicago. Prior to BITTER MELONS, she began production on her 1st documentary feature, WATER SPINACH, observing the life of Cambodian water spinach farmers in Rosharon, Texas. WATER SPINACH was conceived as a project during her fellowship with Kartemquin's DIVERSE VOICES IN DOCS, an initiative to develop and mentor documentary filmmakers of color. Her day gig involves working as the Independent Film Coordinator for the Chicago Film Office.


1st AD & PRODUCER – Daniel Lamkin is a native Chicagoan, with a BA from Columbia College. For the last 10 years Daniel has worked in commercial, film and television production, while producing short films and web series independently. Currently Daniel works as a freelance assistant director and is a member of the Directors Guild of America. Daniel is an avid fan of the short film format and loves the idea of finding interesting inspiring and socially relevant material to become passionate about. Recent AD experience includes work on CHICAGO JUSTICE and CAPTIVE STATE.


EXECUTIVE PRODUCER – Jess Wright grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and his love of visual art and storytelling drew him to everything film early in life. He began writing short stories as a child, making home movies and immersing himself in the art of filmmaking. His paternal Grandmother, an experienced director in theater helped to shape his appreciation and encourage his insatiable appetite for knowledge of the art form. Jess attended Columbia College of Chicago and graduated with a B.A. in Fiction Writing. After graduation Jess interned with the Arthritis Foundation in Chicago in the areas of programing, fundraising and marketing. Moving closer to his love of film Jess interned in the areas of marketing and social media with Facets of Chicago, “a nonprofit that connects people to independent ideas through transformative film experiences”. While serving on the Associate board of Full Spectrum Features in Chicago he connected with Thavary Krouch, Writer and Director of Bitter Melons. Jess feels so strongly about this film project and its content that he has taken on a role as Executive Producer and committed some of his own financial resources to help with the films completion. 


DP – Herman Asph is an intimate observer of all people, places and things that surround him. A wanderer and explorer, Herman has a refined ability to engage with, document and communicate the story of his experiences and environments. The magic happens when he is behind the camera  he brings a unique style and energy to all of his work. Each piece is perfectly composed, beautifully lit and artistically inspiring. He creates award winning pictures with genuine emotion. Born in Sweden, Herman spent two years studying still photography at Forsa before also studying cinematography at Stockholm Film School.


PRODUCTION DESIGNER – Spence Warren is an Art Director/Prop Master working primarily in commercials in Chicago -- in this, his endeavor to bring visions to life and make them feel tangible. He is also a director, making films, music videos and promos in Chicago. In this, he hopes to inspire with color, sound and light.


EDITOR – Felix Piñeiro is a Chicago based filmmaker. He studied Film Production and Communications at Loyola University Chicago then went on to earn his MFA in Film Directing from EICAR: The International Film School of Paris in France. He has worked extensively as a narrative and commercial editor. Select projects include: SIGNATURE MOVE making its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival with screenings at 120+ film festivals around the world (winner of Best U.S. Narrative Feature 2017 Outfest), 1980s cop drama, PUBLIC HOUSING UNIT (winner of Best of 2017 ITVFest), the pilot for WRITTEN OFF starring Antoine McKay (Empire, Patriot), Chicago comedy THE JAMZ currently streaming on Netflix, indie horror film, ANGUISH featured at Fantasia Fest 2015. Directorial efforts include CYCLES (CIMMFest, Atlanta Philosophy Film Festival) and the upcoming, I AM NOT BROKEN.


RE-RECORDING MIXER – John Wong is an established sound designer and re-recording mixer in the post-production industry in Chicago. John is involved with all facets of audio in film, web series, animation, video games, and in the commercial industry. He was recognized as one of the top 50 film people to know in Chicago by NewCity publication. Some of John’s highlights include working on the NYTVF series The Jamz on Netflix, a documentary series called Our Longest Drive on the Golf Channel, Count Me In a documentary on PBS, Netherrealm’s Justice League video game Injustice God’s Among Us, Telltale Games The Walking Dead: Season 2, and a plethora of films, and web series. John has earned some recognition in the commercial industry as well with Telly Award for his sound design work for BMW Golf spot “Don’t Miss - Denver”, and a AVA Digital award for his sound design work for the Red Bull video “Soapbox”.


Actor / SOPHIA  – Pisay Pao was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her parents escaped the civil war in Cambodia and she moved to Seattle, Washington at the age of two. Pisay loved the arts and began painting, drawing, dancing, and performing at a young age. When she reached her teen years her parents pushed her to excel academically. She obliged and earned a scholarship to attend the University of Washington. However after a year she found herself completely unhappy and instead decided to pursue a career in fashion, all the while continuing to dabble in the performing arts. When she graduated from design school she met a model/actress who would eventually introduce Pisay to her future agent. She booked her first national commercial within months of joining her first agency and continued to book more local commercials, and movies before moving to Los Angeles. She is most known for her role as CASSANDRA on zombie apocalypse series, Z NATION.


Actor / CHENDA/MOM – Channy Chhi Laux was thirteen-years-old when the Khmer Rouge took over the country. In June of 1979, Channy arrived in Lincoln Nebraska as a refugee. After four years of no school and not knowing a word of English, she attended Lincoln High School; went on to earn BS degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Master of Science in Applied Mathematics from Santa Clara University. Channy worked in Silicon Valley as an engineer in the Aerospace and Biotech industries for 30 years. As a strong supporter for women in engineering, Channy has been a board member of INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) and held office as president of INCOSE Bay Area Chapter. She is passionate about cooking, dining, and entertaining friends. She is the owner of Apsara Foods and author of Short Hair Detention - Memoirs of a Thirteen Year Old Girl Surviving the Cambodian Genocide.


Actor / PISETH/DAD – Tae Chourb arrived to the United States as a young boy from Cambodia. These early years were a formative experience for Tae, from learning a whole new language to bidding for acceptance from a new culture -- he had to quickly adopt a self-sufficient method of becoming a presence and symbol of hope. With his undue hardship and upbringing as a young man in America with a dream, he learned that anything is possible with hard work and determination. Driven to succeed, he uses his past experiences to motivate and progress his peers. He has appeared on the hit show Chicago PD on NBC and also has done print work for Skechers Shoes. He is living proof of the American dream.



Current Team