ANGKAR by Neary Adeline Hay is a very poignant historically-embedded documentary on the victims of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the genocide of about two million Cambodians.
Neary, how did you come up with the idea?
Many documentaries have been shot on Cambodia and Khmer Rouge, for examples the ones of Ricky Pahm, but I have never found a film showing the question of memory and identity for my father’s generation or for my generation. This issue was around me since I was a child. All people of my age don’t know what happened. The question of silence was what I wanted to deal with in my documentary. I wanted to show how the omertà, the silence created by the trauma is still so strong. I grew up without knowing anything about what happened to my parents. I wonder how you can build a society without understanding what happened in the past. That was the main raison why I decided to make Angkar, to preserve the memory.
Do you remember the first time your father talked to you about his story?
It was not long ago, seven years ago I talked to him for the very first time. I had asked him to tell his past thousands of time. I had never given up. He began to speak about his past becoming older, he felt he could die and it was time to speak out. He had been silent for over thirty years. We went to Cambodia seven years ago for the first time. When I decided to shoot Angkar, I suggested him to come to Cambodia with me. It was 2010, I started filming him.
While staying in Cambodia how did your father cope with, how were his feelings?
Between 2010 and 2016 when I filmed Angkar he talked to me a lot he went through precise details. It was only his memories. We we get to the village in 2016, his behavioour was completely different. He was no more a father telling his story to his daughter. He was the man who relived the atrocities again. He was completely lost in his memories, his behaviour was cathartic. He was still my father of course, but he was also a former prisoner, he became a prisoner again. There were many silences during the shoot.
Did he have some psychological support when arriving in France or later on?
No, never. When my parents arrived in France like all other refugees they stayed three years in refugee camps in Indonesia and Thailand. When we arrived in France the question was not the past, the question was the present. And the present was : how do I feed my child? How can I survive? It was just a fight for living. At that time my parents had no time to complain. Another thing is that in Cambodia people do not really believe in psychology, not the old generations.
How about your personal feelings when visiting this village and meeting these former criminals?
I was full of contradictions. I was very concentraded in filming. I stayed in my place, I did nothing, I did not intervene when my father was talking to the people we met. But I was humanly very shocked I thought «I know that you are lying I would put you in front of your lies but I have to respect the position of my father.» I never talked, I only let my father talk with them and just shot. On the one hand I felt uneasy but on the other hand when I met these farmers living in very poor conditions, some emphaty also rose. I thought these people were poor farmers under the regime before the Khmer Rouge arrived. Then they became murders and after the Khmer overthrow they came back to be poor farmers, completely neglected by the society.
Were you compassionate towards them?
Sometimes, in their present conditions. Sometimes I forgot they were killers. But when they talked to my father I came back to this reality, I knew they were lying. If I had been my father I would have forced them to admit the truth.
Do you think that thanks to your documentary your father can somehow come to terms with his past?
We made some screenings during the Cinéma du Réel in Paris, my father was at Q&A, he talked to the people and I was very surprised. I was touched too, as I felt, and the audience felt the same, that something was outliving that moment, the film. Something was changing in my father, I was moved and proud of my father when he said «We as parents have to tell our story to our children.»
Do you think you will engage yourself with Cambodia again? And what about your next project?
I have two projects ahead of me. One is a fiction film project that I will shoot in Cambodia, it is about the present and the past of the country because the past with its story is still haunting. But something new is raising about the knowledge of the past by new generations and it is hopeful.
Do you think the Special Tribunal for Cambodia helped new generations to know approach the country’s past?
The new generation did not care of this court judging old people because they have been living peacefully for thirty years. For the new generation is more important the question of identity. It is something more personal, more intimate, more centered on what happened in their own family. What is new is the fact that they want to deal with their own family, their own story.