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Enemies of the People

July 22, 2010

At the last minute, my friends and I decided to go see a new documentary about Cambodia last night, called Enemies of the People. You may have heard of it, because it won a special jury prize at Sundance this year, and has been getting a lot of press in the US and Europe. It records the investigative journalism of Them Sambat, whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge. He spent years befriending Khmer Rouge killers, including the second in command to Pol Pot, Nuon Chea. Eventually, many of them confessed to their crimes in excruciating detail, explaining how they killed people, taking Sambat to mass graves, and telling stories about their victims.

I want to recommend the film for a few specific reasons. First, the documentary was made by a Cambodian about a Cambodian. Too many documentaries about atrocities in the developing world feature a white foreigner showing up to Find Truth and Bring Justice (cough ahem cough). This one is different though – although a foreigner contributed to the filming and production, the story is entirely told by Sambat.

Second, the movie is about relationships. Sambat became friends with many men and women who killed during the Khmer Rouge. He grew close to them and expressed real sadness when Nuon Chea was arrested by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. To tell such an important story in a relational way challenges the easy assumption that any person can be completely and truly evil.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly to the general public, this documentary shows the first confession of Nuon Chea for the crimes that he committed and the murders that he orchestrated.

So, put it on your Netflix queue, order it from Amazon, whatever, but make an effort to see this movie if you want to learn more about Cambodia’s history and the survivors who are working for reconciliation here today.

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