FASSA SAR WRITES – Films that are bold enough to retrace the disheartening memories of those who died and survived during authoritarian regimes, civil wars and genocide expose the silenced wounds of history. “First They Killed My Father,” directed by Angelina Jolie and produced by legendary cambodian filmmaker, Rithy Panh, debuted on Netflix (U.S.) on September 16th. This movie tells a powerful story about Cambodia’s brutal communist regime, Khmer Rouge, unfolded through the eyes of a child, Loung Ung.
Adapted from human rights activist, Loung Ung’s memoir, “A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers,” the film tackles the challenge of accurately depicting the tragic experiences of various families under the reign of terror between 1975 and 1979. The Khmer Rouge attempted to socially engineer a classless communist and agrarian society, taking aim at intellectuals, city residents, religious monks, civil servants and ethnic Vietnamese. Under their regime, 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were killed through starvation, execution, disease or exhaustion from being overworked.
Jolie delivers a rare, heart;<throbbi>g story that vividly captures the atrocities of war in a way that veers from images of bloodshed. Viewers follow the story through the eyes of a young child, innocent from the politics and state of her home country. In an interview with NPR, Jolie explains this important point of view: “So in a way, the audience might be confused a little bit about politics because you’re being told by Pa, ‘It’s OK.’ But you have to check the clues around you and try to see beyond what’s she seeing.”
A major filmmaker has not publicly spoken about these events since Roland Joffe directed and produced “The Killing Fields.” Even though “The Killing Fields” was Oscar-nominated and widely acclaimed, the film had a hard time connecting with the country it was portraying and could not step beyond a westernized frame.
“First They Killed My Father” on the other hand, was filmed in Cambodia with a predominantly Cambodian cast and crew, including Jolie, who adopted a child from Cambodia and now has dual citizenship. And while it may be suggested that the film is illustrated through an American point of view, Jolie stressed that this is a film about the experiences of the Cambodian people. Jolie made substantial efforts to work with natives such as Rithy Panh, who had escaped from the Khmer Rouge regime and received first hand experience of the true nightmares of the time.
“This is their film,” Jolie says, “I wanted to bring the tools and make it possible…It would only be possible if we were allowed to be there, if the people there wanted to participate.”