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

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of