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‘Enemies’ Gathers Audience at Maryland Temple

Thet Sambath, filmmaker of the 'Enemies of the People', talking to former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea.
Thet Sambath, filmmaker of the 'Enemies of the People', talking to former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea.

“Enemies of the People,” an award-winning documentary that follows one journalist’s search for answers about the Khmer Rouge, screened at a pagoda in Maryland this weekend, prompting many questions from the audience, some of them yet unanswered.

The film follows journalist Thet Sambath as he interviews former low-level cadre and the regime’s chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, who is now facing atrocity crimes charges at the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

The film screened at the Buddhikarama pagoda in Silver Spring, Md., on Sunday.

In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, a former soldier re-enacts what it was like to cut the throat of a victim. The knife he uses on a reluctant demonstration partner is plastic, but the scene is chillingly real.

“I could imagine the frightening killings of the Khmer Rouge,” said Chhun Chhoammana, secretary for the Cambodian Buddhist Society. “It was horrifying.”

Thet Sambath and co-producer Rob Lemkin answered questions from nearly 50 people in the audience after the film. Some said they’d asked questions they had never brought up before. Others said they had still more.

“We screened it here because a pagoda is where people come together,” said Thet Sambath, who had come to the Washington area to collect a prestigious Knight International Journalism Award, for the years of reporting he undertook before the film was made. “I believe that all Cambodians are still wondering why and how the massacre of Cambodia’s people took place between 1975 and 1979.”

In another scene in the film, Thet Sambath questions Nuon Chea over the decisions that led to so many deaths. Nuon Chea and the other main cadre in the film, soldiers Khuon and Suon, “talked very honestly, frankly, openly, truly for the first time,” Lemkin said. “So this is history, history in the making.”

For viewer Kong Heng, who lost 12 relatives to the regime, the film raised questions about the Khmer Rouge tribunal under way.

“The government and the UN decided in their agreements to try only the top leaders and most responsible persons,” he said. “If the trial expands to small cadre, like these killers in the film, there will be too many of them to try.”

An expansion of the court’s work could also cause “insecurity,” he said. “It is good enough.”

The producers said they were now trying to raise money for a second film, which would explore the political motivations behind the killings.

“In ‘Enemies of the People,’ I couldn’t figure out who was really behind the killing,” Chhum Chhoammana said. “Sambath said those who ordered the killing would be revealed in the second film.”