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VOA Exclusive: Beyond Film, Angelina Jolie To Continue Empowering Cambodians

Actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie (left) and Cambodian-American Loung Ung, author of “First They Killed My Father,” give an exclusive interview to VOA Khmer following a press conference about the premiere of the upcoming Netflix film in Siem Reap province, Cambodia on February 18, 2017. The film “First They Killed My Father,” based on Luong Ung's account of surviving the Khmer Rouge regime as a child, premiered Saturday night at an outdoor screening in Angkor Archeological Park. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

Angelina Jolie says she plans for her son Maddox, who was born in Cambodia, to help lead some of her Cambodia projects after he turns 18.

Editor's Note: American actress and director Angelina Jolie said Saturday that the world premiere in Cambodia of the Khmer-language drama, 'First They Killed My Father,' is her gift to the country of her adopted son Maddox. In front of many Cambodians invited to the outdoor, evening screening near Angkor Wat, Jolie said without Cambodia "I would not be a mother." She and Cambodian-American rights advocate Loung Ung, author of the autobiography on which the Netflix production is based, sat down several hours before the premiere with VOA Khmer's Sophat Soeung to discuss their plans after the film.

VOA: You are a Cambodian citizen and we were in Battambang and saw the Maddox Foundation, so it's hard to overstate your connection to Cambodia. What are your other plans, besides the movie, going forward in Cambodia?

Angelina Jolie: Well, I will continue to do the work I have been doing for about twelve years now, up in Samlot, the Samlot area. I have been very concerned about the natural resources, about the illegal mining. That has been my focus and continues to be my focus. Of course, the center of my work is the schools for children, health care. We look after thousands of people in our way, in our outreach, from health care to education to environment. I think it is also important when you do work internationally that you work with local people. You hand it over to local people, and it becomes the project run by the local people and that is what we have up there, and the team leader is Mony Chan, and he is extraordinary, and the team who's been there a long time and are really wonderful. I am there but really it's for them, and they can exist without me present, and that’s what is important. ​

VOA: The foundation now carries Maddox’s name, and he is Cambodian American. Do you have specific plans for him going forward to do things in Cambodia?

Angelina Jolie: Maddox is very aware that this project is not just under his name but it's for him to take over when he is eighteen years old. So he will be taking the responsibility of this project and all that it does when he is eighteen. I believe in not pushing your children to say you need to love a country because you are from this country because that never works. You have to just introduce the country, make the country be familiar, become friends with many people in the country, and that's what's happened. So he naturally without any kind of pushing of my own, has asked to come back, has asked to spend time in his home. He’s started to really connect, so it's really beautiful. So absolutely I expect him to be very very hands-on in the future.

VOA: Now, for Loung. Not many people get to have their books made into a Hollywood movie for Netflix. How does it feel as a Cambodian American writer and what is your next project?

Loung Ung: I am writing a novel, and it also takes place in Srok Khmer [Cambodia]. I have been coming to Srok Khmer since 1995 and it’s been 35 plus trips, so my heart is in Srok Khmer. My spirit is in Srok Khmer. My soul is in Srok Khmer, and when I am here, even though sadly my Khmer is not as ពិរោះស្តាប់ [good] as other Khmer because I left since I was 10, but it's such a pleasure to speak Khmer [language], to eat Khmer food, to listen to Khmer music, to see Khmer scenery. And I feel, for me, very full when I am Khmer spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Full. So when I look at Khmer landscape, it is like pixelated in my eyes and my retina, nothing is missing, everything is full, and so I am very proud that this film does exactly that. It is beautiful. Angie has captured not just the story but also family relationships, and cultures and sceneries, and lotus flowers, and dragon flies, and rice, and the greenness of the rice. And those are kinds of things that I thought were really important for the world to see of Srok Khmer, not just ... because Khmer Rouge is only a 4-year span in a two-thousand-year-old history. It is such an honor and a celebration that we come back here to Angkor Wat to do a premiere at the center of our civilization, at the heart and soul and pride of our nation, and that this film captures all those things. Not just the big stories but, as you know as being Khmer, for us it is small stories [and details] as well. The story of the Khmer smile, of the Khmer look, of the Khmer ជំរាបសួរ [hello] and សំពះ [greeting hand gesture], and I love that, that Angie has such a great, great eye for details, and when you see in the Khmer story and we ជំរាបសួរ. She got it right. She got that we don’t say hello in Srok Khmer with just hello but we say ជំរាបសួរ [hello] and put the hand together like this. It's very authentic, and I am very, very proud for the world to see that of Cambodia, the whole of Cambodia. They are not going to be missing anything. When they see it, you will feel full spiritually.

VOA Khmer's Sophat Soeung (right) interviews American actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung, author of "First They Killed My Father" in Siem Reap, Cambodia, February 18, 2017.​ (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)
VOA Khmer's Sophat Soeung (right) interviews American actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung, author of "First They Killed My Father" in Siem Reap, Cambodia, February 18, 2017.​ (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)