Pol Pot and his gang of Khmer Rouge socialist comrades murdered 25% of Cambodian citizens, in total somewhere around two million lives, in the span of just five years (1975-1979). Cambodia declared May 20th to be a day of remembrance to honor these dead.
Pol Pot was taught the wonders of agrarian socialism while attending college in France, and returned home with a determination to build that utopia — whatever the cost. Per Wikipedia, “[The Khmer Rouge] planned to create a form of agrarian socialism founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The subsequent policies caused forced relocation of the population from urban centers, torture, mass executions, use of forced labor, malnutrition, and disease.”
The five films below are among the few to touch on this subject. The Killing Fields (1984) was the first major film to tell of this democide, and for many it was the first they had heard of it. It was followed two years later by the Disney film The Girl Who Spelled Freedom (1986), which told the true story of Linn Yann, a young Cambodian girl who impressed the nation by winning the US spelling bee championship just a few years after her arrival. Much later, two documentaries were made, Enemies of the People (2009) and Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (2014). In 2017, Angeline Jolie released the documentary, First They Killed My Father.
Enemies of the People
“This is patient, persistent, probing and fearless journalism of the highest order and it shocks to the core. ”
“Enemies of the People is another disquieting testament to the fact that ordinary individuals under extreme pressure will carry out the most monstrous crimes.”
–New York Times
The Girl Who Spelled Freedom
This Disney film tells the true story of Linn Yann, a young girl who escaped the killing fields of Cambodia, immigrated to America, and four years later became the U.S. national spelling bee champion. For a film made 30 years ago, it’s remarkable how popular this film remains; it currently scores a 95% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. More details here.
The Killing Fields
In The Killing Fields, a New York Times correspondent and his Cambodian guide brave the dangers of war and socialist atrocity to report the truth, and to protect each other. This true story was the first many had ever heard of the Cambodian democide. The film was nominated for Best Picture. More details here.
“Himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, lucky to have escaped with his life, Ngor subsumes himself in the role in a way that makes one wonder that he made it through filming without losing his mind.”
–Eye for Film
“Few feature films have captured a nation’s agony more dramatically than Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields.”
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
“A film not just for the musically obsessed, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is a poignant and an important reminder that art matters, especially when one is facing the abyss.”
“This is eye-opening and frequently moving, elevated by sharp editing that imaginatively juxtaposes major events in government and entertainment history.”
First They Killed My Father
Angelina Jolie produced a film for Netflix about the devastating Cambodian democide carried out by the Khmer Rouge (“Red Khmers,” followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia), led by Pol Pot, who dreamed of remaking Cambodia into an agrarian socialist paradise. In the process of “remaking” Cambodia, Pol Pot deliberately massacred a quarter of the Cambodian population. The film will be based on the book by the same name and is available on Netflix.