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No Widespread Release Yet for 'Enemies of the People'

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.

Phnom Penh cinema owners say they are ready and willing to show a groundbreaking documentary on the Khmer Rouge, but the filmmakers say they are so far waiting for government permission for its widespread release.

“Enemies of the People,” which includes lengthy interviews with Pol Pot's lieutenant, Nuon Chea, who is now facing trial for atrocity crimes charges at the UN-backed tribunal, will premier in a small arts theater this week.

“As a Cambodian, I want the documentary film shown in my cinema as soon as possible because the spread of the film through the cinema will remind our young people of the Khmer Rouge and its policies,” Kam Chanthy, director of the Soriya cinema in central Phnom Penh, said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Enemies of the People,” produced by Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath and British filmmaker Rob Lemkin, captures rare confessions from Khmer Rouge cadre as they carried out the brutal policies of the regime.

The 93-minute film has won 16 awards in the US and other foreign countries, including the Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

Pao Vanny, manager of Lux cinema on Norodom Boulevard, in the heart of city, said he also wants to show Khmer Rouge history-related films like “Enemies of the People.”

“The screening of the film will help educate our Cambodian people about the Khmer Rouge genocide,” he said.

The filmmakers said they want to show their films in cinemas across the country, but they have not received permission.

“I do no know why the Cambodia government has not given us permission,” Rob Lemkin said on Tuesday.

Thet Sambath said he applied for permission from the Ministry of Culture three months ago.

“If we have the permission, we will show the film in big cinemas like Lux and Chenla so that more Cambodian people can view it,” he said. “We would also like to screen it in open fields in the countryside, because most Cambodian people cannot afford to see it in Phnom Penh’s cinemas.”

There are now only 10 cinemas across the country, one in each of the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Svay Rieng and the rest in Phnom Penh. That number has fallen from the 30 that existed in the 1960s halcyon days of Cambodian film.

Sin Chan Saya, director of the Ministry of Culture’s film and cultural diffusion department, which is in charge of issuing licenses for film screenings, said “Enemies of the People” is in English.

“If you wish to screen it in Cambodia, the sound must be in Khmer,” he said.

The producers now say they will resubmit the film with Khmer translation.

Meanwhile, there are those who want to see it as soon as possible.

“I want to see it now to find out why my family and others’ were taken away by the Khmer Rouge for execution without any reason,” said San Yon, a 60-year-old Phnom Penh resident who lost her mother, husband and only daughter to the regime.

For now, the film will screen at the Meta House in Phnom Penh this week before it moves on to cinemas in London July 30.