News / Arts & Entertainment

Cambodian Oscar Contender Aims to Convey History Lesson

This image released by Strand Releasing shows a scene from
This image released by Strand Releasing shows a scene from "The Missing Picture." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign picture, Jan. 16, 2014.
Sarah Williams
Cambodia recently got a boost when one of its movies was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film. The Missing Picture is the first Cambodian film to be nominated for an Oscar.  Set during the Khmer Rouge rule of the 1970’s, it uses clay figures to tell the story of a family and a nation gripped by genocide.

“Personally, I’m very happy for me and my team, but now, if I watch what people write on social networks, people are very proud, it’s the first time for us,” said director Rithy Panh, speaking from Phnom Penh. “It’s not only about me now, it’s about our country.”

Panh based the film on his autobiographical book The Elimination, and it recreates the suffering he, his family and the nation went through during the period.

In 1975, when Panh was 11, the Khmer Rouge forced his family to leave the Cambodian capital and relocate to a rural “rehabilitation camp.”  His father was an educator, and the family was considered members of the middle class that the regime wanted to eliminate. 

Panh’s parents, siblings, a niece and nephew, and most of his childhood friends were among the 1.8 million people who died during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.  Victims were executed, or died of disease, starvation, or overwork.

Panh fled to neighboring Thailand in 1979, and eventually moved to France, where he studied film.  He now divides his time between Paris and Cambodia, and has established an award-winning career as a director and screenwriter, specializing in films about the Khmer Rouge period.
  
Cambodian director Rithy Panh waves as he poses during a photo call, Oct. 24, 2008 (File)Cambodian director Rithy Panh waves as he poses during a photo call, Oct. 24, 2008 (File)
x
Cambodian director Rithy Panh waves as he poses during a photo call, Oct. 24, 2008 (File)
Cambodian director Rithy Panh waves as he poses during a photo call, Oct. 24, 2008 (File)
In this latest film, Panh uses clay figures to substitute for pictures or film of the Khmer Rouge era that can’t be found. He met with former members of the movement who told him that they did film and photograph their actions, but the documentation is now missing. 

“It’s a genocide without images,” said Panh.

The filmmaker tried to construct a model of his childhood home, and he asked an assistant to produce a small figure of young boy using clay. 

“When we were young, we went to the river, and we got some clay, and we produced animal figurines, and we tried to tell a story with that,” he said.

As the assistant worked, Panh decided to use the clay figures to tell his story.

“When we pray to Buddha, we are not praying to a piece of stone, an image of Buddha, but we pray to the soul of Buddha behind the piece of stone,” he said. “The souls of the people who are dead now are still with us.”

Panh hopes his films will help young Cambodians to understand their country’s history.

“People of my generation did not like very much to tell what we lived through during the Khmer Rouge regime,” he says.  “It’s not easy to explain to the new generation, the young people why we cannot protect our families, why we can’t help them to survive.”

Panh believes the era’s survivors continue to grapple with guilt.

“In fact, we are guilty of nothing,” he said. “You did not survive because you were stronger or cleverer than other people; you are still alive because people helped you to be here today.”

The Missing Picture’s nomination occurs as the country confronts new turmoil, as opposition activists clash with government forces.  The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has conducted protests, saying voting fraud took place during elections last July.  The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has rejected the accusations, and refuses to organize new polling.

“You know at this moment we have to face many problems, and then you have good news like this, and everybody is happy,” Panh said about the film’s nomination.

Many of those that lived through Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge era continue to struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We survivors of the genocide, it is like we are dead already, but we are reborn again,” Panh said. “We learn to love; we learn to appreciate the taste of food, the smell of flowers, and every day for us we learn to live, because a life is a very precious thing that you have now.”

The Academy Award winners will be announced on March 2.

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”