AN award-winning documentary about the Khmer Rouge, Enemies of the People, will be screened at Meta House in Phnom Penh for three nights starting tonight, marking the first time the film has been shown in Cambodia.
Rob Lemkin – who co-produced the film along with Thet Sambath, a senior reporter at The Phnom Penh Post, said Enemies of the People had been shown in other countries but it was important that it be screened in Cambodia where the story took place.
“This film has never angered any Cambodian people who saw it when we screened it in other countries, but it helped them understand more about the story of the Khmer Rouge,” he said.
Lemkin, who works for the United Kingdom-based independent film company Old Street Films, had long planned to produce a film about the Khmer Rouge but did not know how to go about contacting people who had supported the regime, especially the senior leaders.
His break came in 2006 when he met Thet Sambath, who had been interviewing Khmer Rouge supporters since 1998, and even had film footage of his interviews with Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, alias Brother Number 2.
For years Thet Sambath had spent his weekends visiting areas in northwest Cambodia, where many former regime supporters lived, seeking answers about why his father and brother had been executed by the Khmer Rouge.
“It took me seven years to talk to Nuon Chea,” Thet Sambath said. “He finally agreed, saying that he could see that I was an honest person. He said he would tell me everything I wanted to know.”
Even so, Nuon Chea was reluctant to reveal his whole story, and for a long time rejected the idea that the interviews should be documented on film.
“At first Nuon Chea didn’t want anybody to know the truth. He said that if he didn’t say anything, nobody would know,” Thet Sambath said.
“I finally convinced him by telling him, ‘You’re old. Many Cambodian people died during your regime. If you don’t tell the truth, the next generations will have doubts forever, and they will say that other countries such as Vietnam, China or the United States had killed the Cambodians.”
Nuon Chea eventually did agree to talk on film, and the footage is included in Enemies of the People, along with interviews with former Khmer Rouge cadre and militia members.
“This film reveals the politics and decisions made by top Khmer Rouge leaders about how to run the country and how to deal with cadres who were allegedly against the party,” Thet Sambath said. “It also shows how cadres and militias were ordered to ‘smash’ people who were accused of being traitors.”
Enemies of the People, which runs 93 minutes, was first screened in Amsterdam in 2009. It has won numerous awards at international film festivals, including the Special Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance 2010, the Charles E Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award at Full Frame 2010, the Best Documentary and Social Justice awards at Santa Barbara 2010, and the Outstanding Documentary Award at Hong Kong 2010.
Enemies of the People will be shown at Meta House (#37 Sothearos Boulevard) tonight, tomorrow and Friday at 6:30pm and 8:30pm. Admission is US$5 ($2.50 with student ID), which includes one drink. The filmmakers will be present at all screenings.