News / Arts & Entertainment

Cambodian Oscar Contender Aims to Convey History Lesson

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.
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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”