Update:  Too bad, The Missing Picture, a powerful, engaging film about the Cambodian genocide did not win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.  The Great Beauty did, a nicely filmed look at the vacuous lives of the idle rich in Rome.  I recall being pretty grumpy when I left the theater and didn’t think it worth the time to review.  Though lots of folks liked it, here’s one who shares my view.  Which of course screams the question: what do we mean by BEST!? Urghh.  Let’s get a better way to think about such things. If there can be Short Animated and Short Live Action, why not Foreign Entertainment and Foreign Thoughtful…. I don’t know….

To see The Missing Picture we’ll have to scour the local art houses or wait for it on Netflix or other online sources.  Meanwhile, here’s a good article and interview with the director, Rithy Panh who, himself, survived the killing fields.

Before me, nobody made films about genocide, except the foreigners. No point of view came from Cambodia. It’s not easy, you know? People here want you to show the sunset on the Angkor Wat temple, the Water Festival, the boat-race boat, the smiling countryside, Country of Wonder. I understand. I like watching films with special effects, romance films. But we have also to face our history.

As a film director, I would like to just make films. But the problem is that I am Cambodian. I lived under the Khmer Rouge regime and a lot of friends and family died during the Khmer Rouge regime. Why you are alive? Why you and not another one? Why me and not my brother? I think that you are here because people help you to be here, to be alive today. You are not here because you are stronger than another one or because you are more clever. No. You are here because people help you come through the genocide. People help you to grow up. To be strong. And it’s a minimum thing that I can do, to talk about that. Who they are. What they did. How much courage they had. How they tried to defend their dignity. It’s one thing I can do.

So when I start making films, I first must pay back all the love that they give to me. I have to pay back to them, just to tell future generations, “Don’t forget your grandfather. Don’t forget your family.”

If you don’t tell their story, how will children now think about them? The fact is, everybody wants to make a film with Angelina Jolie, with Brad Pitt, to use traveling, to use helicopter. Everybody wants to be fun. To make films that are funny, a lot of joy, a lot of love, a lot of happiness. But to make film about memory is not the same joy.

Read all at TruthOut.org

Original Post follows….

The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh, Cambodia’s first nominee for an Oscar, looks powerful indeed.  97% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  One review here. Another, in The Irrawaddy, a Burmese on-line magazine here.

“When you survive a genocide, it’s like you’ve been radiated by a nuclear bomb,” Panh said during an interview at his Phnom Penh office, which is inside a film preservation center that he runs. “It’s like you’ve been killed once already, and you come back with death inside of you.”

Many of Pahn’s movies have been documentaries that have earned critical acclaim but limited commercial success. He has interviewed the regime’s former torturers, prison guards and survivors as part of his conviction that Cambodia must face its past to build a better future.

“The Missing Picture” is a poetic and highly original film in which the starring roles are played by static clay figures. It may be his most celebrated work yet: Even before the historic Oscar nomination, it won the top prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, an award for especially creative or thought-provoking films.

… “I don’t have the impression of going to Los Angeles all alone,” said Panh, describing himself as brimming with “enormous pride” a few days before leaving for Hollywood. “I feel like I’m going with my whole country.”

The Khmer Rouge era left more than 1.7 million people dead, mostly from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution. The regime executed artists, writers and filmmakers as part of its Maoist vision to eliminate the educated elite and transform the country into an agrarian utopia.

Some of Rith Panh’s earlier work is available at Netflix.  

Other documentaries are also available, Year Zero, Enemies of the People — which I can highly recommend, and The Conscience of Nhem En, also good.

Year Zero is apparently fully available, here: