Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - At Jolie film premiere, survivors and royalty re-witness Khmer Rouge horrors

At Jolie film premiere, survivors and royalty re-witness Khmer Rouge horrors

Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie sits between two members of the First They Killed My Father cast, ‬Sareum Srey Moch and Mun Kimhak, as they speak to the press before the movie's premiere.
Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie sits between two members of the First They Killed My Father cast, ‬Sareum Srey Moch and Mun Kimhak, as they speak to the press before the movie's premiere. Eliah Lillis

At Jolie film premiere, survivors and royalty re-witness Khmer Rouge horrors

As the sun set last night over the Terrace of the Elephants amid the ruins of Angkor Thom, nearly 1,000 people – from ministers and the royal family to survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime – took their seats for the world premiere of the Angelina Jolie-directed First They Killed My Father. After Jolie had greeted the arrival of King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, the lights came down and for a brief moment the rustling of insects was the only sound as the crowd hushed. This was a moment many in the Kingdom have been waiting for.

An adaptation of Loung Ung’s autobiographical book recounting her and her family’s suffering under the Khmer Rouge, the film recounts in vivid detail the forced evacuations from Phnom Penh, the journey to the brutal labor camps in the country’s northwest, and, for Ung, being conscripted as a soldier into the ranks of the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea. Ung, who is portrayed in a highly emotional performance by child actress Sareum Srey Moch, was five years old when her family was ordered out of the capital. For some fellow survivors in attendance, the depiction on the big screen was a harrowing but cathartic experience.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie greets Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk on Saturday in Siem Reap at the premiere of 'First They Killed My Father.' Eliah Lillis

Say Vorphorn, a 45-year-old doctor at the screening, said that while his experience as a child-survivor of the Khmer Rouge was less brutal than that of the movie’s protagonist, the loss of his own father resonated deeply.

“I was three years old during that time, but I didn’t suffer as much because my mother was a cook,” he said. “[But] I feel this deeply inside my heart because my father was killed during that time.”

Ma Rynet, the star of The Last Reel, who played an extra in a scene in which a captured Khmer Rouge soldier is beaten by angry villagers, said that seeing the final product brought her to tears.

“I hope the world will know Cambodia through this film,” she said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie waves to the crowd on Saturday in Siem Reap, at the premiere of her latest movie, First They Killed My Father. Eliah Lillis

Shot entirely in the country in late 2015 and early 2016, First They Killed My Father is the biggest Khmer-language film to date and the first big budget film about the Khmer Rouge for international audiences since the 1984 film The Killing Fields. Whereas The Killing Fields was framed around the true story of an American journalist, First They Killed My Father is told solely through the eyes of Ung – a decision Jolie, Ung and Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle say was taken early on in the production.

“[The book] helped me to open my eyes to different things happening in the world – things I didn’t know about that I didn’t learn in school,” Jolie said.

Co-producer and celebrated Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh explained the choice of subject matter simply at a press conference before the screening: “It’s a story that has to be told.”

Sin Nou Visakha, 65, a Khmer Rouge survivor, at the premiere of First They Killed My Father.
Sin Nou Visakha, 65, a Khmer Rouge survivor, at the premiere of First They Killed My Father. Eliah Lillis

Pre-Khmer Rouge golden-era actress Dy Saveth, who escaped Cambodia before the Pol Pot regime but nonetheless lost 10 family members, saw the film as a cautionary tale for the country.

“We have to remember, but we don’t need to be angry with [the Khmer Rouge], so we need to remember and avoid that this happens again.”

Another survivor, Sin Nou Visakha, 65, broke into tears as she spoke to The Post after the screening.

“I felt overwhelmed by this movie, and scared because the movie was realistic,” she said. “The image is the same as reality – 100 percent the same. It touches my heart.”

For Visakha, First They Killed My Father has the potential to be an invaluable way of educating Cambodia’s youth about the horrors of the past.

“I want the young children to watch this, more than old people, because we have been through it and some of the young people don’t believe that we suffered like that.”

First They Killed My Father will be screened again tonight in Siem Reap at the Terrace of the Elephants, followed by a screening at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 21 and in Battambang on February 23, ahead of its worldwide release on Netflix later this year.

MOST VIEWED

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors