Monday, June 26, 2006

Dith Pran - one-man crusade

Dith Pran is a name known to many around the globe after his incredible fight for life and survival was portrayed in the film The Killing Fields in the mid-80s. Today, he travels extensively across the United States speaking to high schools and colleges of his experiences, is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and is also a photojournalist for the New York Times. In his own words, "I must speak for those who did not survive and for those who still suffer. I don't consider myself a politician or a hero. I'm a messenger. If Cambodia is to survive, she needs many voices."

Pran was born near the Angkor temples sixty-four years ago. Before joining the New York Times as a stringer in 1973, he worked on the film Lord Jim in the mid-60s and as a hotel receptionist in Siem Reap before moving to Phnom Penh and taking on the role of guide and interpreter for the foreign journalists flooding the city that brought him into contact with Times' correspondent Sydney Schanberg. The story of his friendship with Schanberg is a key thread running through The Killing Fields though its his miraculous survival of the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent holocaust, that provides the film's backbone. Though Pran survived, his father, three brothers and one sister didn't.

Schanberg's New York Times article that grabbed the attention of the film's producer David Puttnam appeared in January 1980 as The Death and Life of Dith Pran. Bruce Robinson's screenplay was brought to life by director Roland Joffe and filming took place in Thailand in 1983. Haing S Ngor, a doctor not an actor, took the part of Pran in the film and made such an impression that he deservedly won an Academy Award. The photo on the left shows Pran (left) with Ngor and his Oscar. Ngor's own life story was as harrowing and absorbing as Dith Pran's. Tragically, Ngor was killed by gang members in February 1996.

A book with 29 survivor stories - Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields - was compiled by Dith Pran, edited by his wife Kim DePaul and published by Yale University Press in 1997 . Also visit the non-profit Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project at http://www.dithpran.org. To read more about the film, The Killing Fields, go to: http://andybrouwer.co.uk/kfields.html.

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