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'Enemies of the People' Documentary Looking for an Oscar

  • Men Kimseng
  • VOA Khmer

The Khmer Rouge documentary “Enemies of the People,” which explores some of the reasoning behind the killings under the regime, has been submitted to the premier film competition in the US, the Academy Awards.

“Because the film has done so well at big film festivals in America and around the world, many people have suggested to us that we should at least consider entering it,” film producer Rob Lemkin told VOA Khmer by phone last week from London. “And there has been a number of mentions of that in Internet articles and so on. And so because the film was being released anyway in cinemas, we decided that we might as well have a try to see if we got lucky.”

The submission for Oscar consideration is a first for Lemkin, who worked with Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath on the film. The story follows Thet Sambath as he tries to learn more about what happened to his family and others under the Khmer Rouge from its chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, and two former soldiers tasks with killing.

Through years of reporting, Thet Sambath found low-level cadre willing to describe how they killed and why, and he elicits a confession from Nuon Chea that “enemies of the people” had to be smashed, or killed, instead of imprisoned.

The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival in January and has been released in the US, Europe and Asia.

Lemkin told VOA Khmer from London he thought the film was significant in its historical content and “the seriousness of the story, which in a way is very unusual content matter.”

“The film goes very close up to the people who have done unspeakably violent things and gets to know them very well,” he said. “I would hope that our film would be seen by many people for many years, because it will be seen as something that will have a real, true lasting value.”

Thet Sambath said his initial purpose in hist reporting was to discover why the Khmer Rouge committed the atrocities that killed his parents and members of his family, to help people have a better understanding of the regime.

“Not many people knew the rationale behind the killings at the time, or there were rarely any perpetrators coming out to confess,” he said. “In this documentary we have them coming out, especially Broth No. 2 Nuon Chea, who confessed about everything. This is an important point that interests many people, and with this we can compete at the Oscars.”

Teni Melidonian, a publicist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, confirmed submission of the film and said semi-finalists will be announced in mid-November, with five nominees announced two months later, ahead of the Feb. 27 awards.