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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

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.”