Monday, May 16, 2011

Panh on Duch

A Vann Nath painting of S-21 that is used in the new film by Rithy Panh
Film director Rithy Panh has been a busy man. Whilst the rest of us were watching and reading about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and the case of S-21 commandant Duch, Panh was already making his next film, Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell. Panh spent many hours interviewing Duch in prison and out of 300 hours of taped interviews, additional documentary footage of the prison and interviews with survivors, he has produced a 108 minute film that is being shown for the first time at the Cannes film festival this week. It's a topic that Panh covered particularly well in his 2003 film, S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine where he got survivors like Vann Nath to confront their jailers. This time he's got the main man himself. Duch oversaw the deaths of more than 12,000 people at S-21, he was convicted of his crimes and received a 35 year sentence, for which the appeal verdict is due next month. Though he insists in his Panh interviews, that he never committed any crime personally, he does admit to devising and training his torturers and executioners in the methods they used. Duch argues that he did what he did as a faithful soldier of the Khmer Rouge revolution, extracting confessions through torture was necessary to find the truth, as was destroying the enemies afterwards. I know it's a necessary piece of historical film footage but as in his trial, I'm sure Duch will only say what he wants us to hear, the truth being an inconvenience best left unsaid.

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