Leaders around the world still are sorting out the aftermath of the vast crimes against humanity that swept through Cambodia in the 1970s. Simply look at today’s New York Times front-page story headlined ‘Mythic Warrior Is Held Captive in an International Art Conflict.’ At the core of the dispute is a sandstone masterwork with a Sotheby’s catalog estimate of $2 million to $3 million that likely was stolen from Cambodia in the lawless mid-1970s. Investigators have found the 5-foot-tall statue’s stone base, including the figure’s original feet, at a temple 60 miles northeast of the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
Even more important than sorting out reparations from art thefts in that era, the first of the Khmer Rouge war criminals was not convicted until 2010 and human-rights investigations continue in Cambodia to this day. Many investigators and journalists—like those you will meet in the historic video record in ‘Enemies of the People’—are still working to pierce the veil of secrecy about what happened during the bloody reign of Khmer Rouge terror. In that era, countless Cambodians who are alive today were brutally tortured—and 2 million Cambodians were murdered. (Some estimates place the death toll slightly higher or lower.)
Why do we care? Why should you care? ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’ is a major project through ReadTheSpirit to encourage reconciliation efforts around the world. Headed by Daniel Buttry, an international peace activist who works extensively across Asia, we regularly report in our pages on a wide range of global peacemaking efforts. Buttry was not involved himself in the ‘Enemies of the People’ documentation project—that was British filmmaker Rob Lemkin and Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath—but the release of collected ‘Enemies’ materials in an extensive new DVD set is exactly the kind of global peacemaking effort we all want to encourage at ReadTheSpirit.
IN THE FILMMAKERS’ OWN WORDS:
‘PEOPLE TO PEOPLE RECONCILIATION’
In keeping with this important mission, in the summer of 2011, we published ‘4 Reasons We Must Watch PBS’s Enemies of the People.’ That 2011 article featured an interview with Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, the filmmakers who produced this daring documentary.
Thet Sambath risked his life over many years to find and interview Khmer Rouge killers. His body of work paved the way for the creation of this full-scale documentary film along with Rob Lemkin. Sambath has been a leading investigative journalist for a Cambodian English-language newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post. In 2011, he won the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award. The Sambath-Lemkin documentary, now, has racked up a whole shelf of additional awards and honors. Now, Sambath and Lemkin are working on a second film, as well. Your purchasing and spreading the news about their first project will help them in their ongoing efforts.
What are their motives? In our 2011 interview, Thet Sambath clearly explained why this film differs from many other movies about crimes against humanity. Truth be told, many movies focus more on the horrors, gore and suspense of such crimes throughout world history. The focus in ‘Enemies of the People’ is squarely on reconciliation and peacemaking. Here is part of our Q-and-A exchange between ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Thet Sambath in 2011 …
DAVID: Thet, you’ve risked your life to tell the truth about the Khmer Rouge era and its legacy. Now, what do you hope your film will achieve?
THET: We would like there to be people-to-people reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. There are thousands of Khmer Rouge perpetrators in Cambodia and abroad including the U.S. We want it to be possible they can all come forward and confess.
DAVID: Why is that so important?
THET: So the new generation can understand what happened and why. We must never repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to move forward to a brighter future.
DAVID: What do you want Americans to do?
THET: I want them to learn more about the history. If it were not for Nixon and Kissinger’s secret and illegal bombing of my country it is unlikely the Khmer Rouge would have been as harsh as they were. For 10 years after the downfall of Pol Pot, Americans continued to support the Khmer Rouge. That’s because America supported China against the Soviet Union. The same kind of China/Soviet Union split existed inside the Khmer Rouge. And that’s what caused the incredible violence. So I want Americans to understand their government’s role in our tragedy.
GET THE DVD, WHILE IT’S AVAILABLE WITH SUPPLEMENTS
One of the unfortunate truths about today’s media market, as ReadTheSpirit has extensively reported, is the fact that the delivery of movies to American viewers is changing dramatically right now. That means DVD sales in the U.S. are declining and many important DVD titles come and go—and potentially may vanish from the market without warning. We hope that Lemkin’s and Sambath’s supplement-stuffed DVD edition will continue to be on sale indefinitely. We hope so, but word of warning: If this film intrigues you, get over to Amazon now and order your own copy of Enemies of the People (2 Disc Special Edition) while it’s still on the market. This particular edition of the film includes lots of supplemental material that will help orient you to the Khmer Rouge era—and also to the aftermath for survivors of this massive crime against humanity. There’s even a booklet in this current edition that is quite helpful to those who want to understand this tragic era—and the potential road ahead that we all may encourage in seeking peace.
REVIEW by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.