Ron Sim (Media Arts 2002) is no stranger to destruction and suffering. An award-winning filmmaker, he’s captured life in some of the world’s most conflicted regions. But it is perhaps the bond he shares with the world’s most vulnerable and dispossessed that gives his art both its edge and compassion.
Sim was born in a refugee camp along the border of Thailand and Cambodia during the era of Khmer Rouge genocides. He says that it was these early years in his life that inspired him to become a filmmaker. “Every morning, I’d awake to the image of a man behind a camera. They were filming the movie The Killing Fields (about the massacres under Pol Pot) outside my tent. At the age of three, I knew I wanted to be that man behind the camera,” explained Sim.
“To see that kind of devastation caused by Mother Nature and not by a war or human intervention changed my outlook on life” – Ron Sim
His family immigrated to Canada in 1985 when Sim was five and at the age of 12 he began filming. “My parents needed some convincing that this was a good career path. The terrified look on their faces when I told them I wanted to be a filmmaker is something I have never forgotten. Back in Cambodia, artists and filmmakers were routinely killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers,” explained Sim.
In 2002, Sim found himself back in Cambodia as the man behind the camera producing his final film project as a student, I am Khmer. Written and directed with fellow Sheridan graduate Steven Bray, I am Khmer follows Sim’s return to the homeland he and his family were forced to flee. The film was screened at festivals worldwide and won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2006.
Sim has since filmed in 55 countries, ranging from conflict zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to remote locations in Samoa and Malaysia. His work includes documentaries, travel and current affairs programs, and corporate productions for clients such as Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Fox, BBC, and Associated Press. More than half of his travels have been part of his role as Producer and Chief Cinematographer with Dow in Michigan. This work has earned him an unprecedented five consecutive awards for Best Corporate Cinematography from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers, most recently in 2014.
Despite his depth of experience, the seasoned filmmaker recalls being taken aback by what he witnessed during his visits to Haiti following the earthquake that killed over 300,000 people in 2010. “To see that kind of devastation caused by Mother Nature and not by a war or human intervention changed my outlook on life. It touches you in a very different way, particularly because there is no one to blame for the outcome,” said Sim, who initially captured images for CNN and returned several times to shoot on behalf of humanitarian organizations.
“Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for being allowed to do what I do” – Ron Sim
Throughout it all, Sim has found a way to see humanity amidst the devastation. “My background definitely contributes to the passion I put behind my work; the kind of stories I tell and the way I tell them,” he says. “Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for being allowed to do what I do.”
Pictured at top of page: Ron Sim in Haiti. Photo by Dan Denardo
Written by: Carol Hill, Editor in the Alumni Department and Christine Szustaczek, Director of Communications and External Relations at Sheridan.