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For the first time, Rob Lemkin’s doc Enemies of the People exposes the truth about the genocide in Cambodia. Despite the ongoing tribunals, the Khmer Rouge-perpetrated genocide in Cambodia (aka the Killing Fields) remains an unsettling chapter of history for the country. Enemies of the People follows journalist Thet Sambath's efforts to befriend the Khmer Rouge's grassroots killers and chief officers, gaining remarkably intimate access to their stories. He uncovers terrifying personal explanations for the genocide by allowing the perpetrators to speak for themselves. Given that his parents were among the approximately two million people who perished under the Khmer Rouge regime, Thet's dedication to reconciling the past with the present takes on even greater weight.
Enemies of the People was a 2009 recipient of the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. It world premiered at the 2009 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film's US premiere followed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary. At the True/False Film Fest, it was named the 2010 True Life Fund Film. More recently, it won the Annie Dellinger Grand Jury Prize and the Charles Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
We asked Lemkin to tell us the story of his film, in his own words.
For six months we have been premiering Enemies of the People in festivals around the world to enthusiastic audiences, and we are looking forward to Friday’s U.S. theatrical release. Everywhere, people have been moved by the universal elements of this personal journey into the heart of the killing fields of Cambodia—a personal journey undertaken by my co-director Thet Sambath, who is also the film’s protagonist.
All were agreed that Sambath’s ten-year voyage to the innermost sanctum of the Khmer Rouge killing machine was remarkable for its perseverance, bravery and honesty. Many in the audience had, like Sambath, lost their family in the killing fields. Afterwards, several brought him gifts as tokens of thanks for his service to the people.
As I write, we are awaiting the verdict of the UN-backed court on the first accused Khmer Rouge official, a relatively lowly prison chief. [Editor's note: Kaing Guek Eav received a guilty verdict this week, though many people feel the sentence was too lenient.] The most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader is Nuon Chea—he was Pol Pot’s deputy and is known as Brother Number Two. Nuon Chea, who is the principal target of Sambath’s work and a main character in our film, is expected to be sent for trial in a few months. Since he was arrested three years ago—and Sambath perforce stopped filming him—Brother Number Two has told the judges nothing. This, despite the fact that to Sambath he has given a very detailed account of how he and Pol Pot ordered political killings on a massive scale during their time in power.
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