Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rithy Panh - giving his people a voice

Rithy Panh's body of work as an internationally-renowned film-maker bears witness to the devastation that the Khmer Rouge wreaked upon the Cambodian people and allows the survivors to tell their own stories. Himself a survivor and refugee, Panh (pictured) gives his countrymen a voice and an opportunity to come to terms with their own horrific past whilst documenting their memories. His feature films and documentaries are an integral part of the healing process and as such, are recommended viewing for anyone with a smidgen of interest in Cambodia.

Panh was born in 1964 and found himself an orphan, having lost most of the members of his family to the Khmer Rouge genocide, by the time he arrived in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1979. France was his next destination, where he dabbled in painting and writing before discovering a penchant for film-making and gained entry into a prestigious film school in his adopted country. In 1989 he returned to the Thai-Cambodian border to make his first documentary, filming the troubled lives of the Khmer refugees in Site 2. He followed that up with two feature films, Rice People and One Evening After The War, and documentaries such as Bophana and Land of Wandering Souls amongst others. In 2003 he released the unforgettable S21 - The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, which saw two survivors of the extermination and torture centre confront some of their guards and jailers at the scene of their imprisonment.

Earlier this year, Panh's latest work appeared in film festivals such as the Barcelona festival in May. Burnt Theatre is a blend of documentary, fiction and performance and follows five artists searching to express themselves, with the main setting being the former national theatre, which was burnt down a decade ago. Panh, who splits his time between Paris and Cambodia, is desperately keen to train and support film-makers and technicians in his own country as well as being actively engaged in promoting and building an audiovisual resource archive in Phnom Penh.

Read more about Rithy Panh and his work here.

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