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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.