I just watched the movie First They Killed My Father directed by Angelina Jolie. Based on the first person account of a young girl who survived the brutal years of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia it is a moving and almost unbelievable story of survival. Shot entirely in Cambodia and in the Khmer language with English subtitles it features all Cambodian actors. Sareum Srey Moch the little girl who plays the main character had no acting experience before shooting the film but she does an amazing job of bringing her character to life.
I knew nothing about Cambodia till 1985 when my parents sponsored a family from Cambodia to come to Canada. I happened to be at home on maternity leave that fall awaiting the birth of my younger son so on weekdays I went to the home of the new arrivals to give them English lessons. My parents’ connection and involvement with the family continued and my eighty-nine year old father is still included in their family celebrations.
It was that connection with a Cambodian family that prompted me to buy the book First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung when it first came out in 2000. It was while reading this autobiography of a young girl who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime that I really began to understand what had happened in Cambodia and to have a much greater appreciation for what the family my parents had sponsored had experienced.
When we moved to Asia in 2003 traveling to Cambodia was a high priority on my list of destinations. In 2004 I made my first trip there and learned first hand how the carpet bombing of Cambodia by the United States led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime and how the devastating policies of that regime resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population.
In 2011 I returned to Cambodia this time with a group of high school students. On my first trip I had only been to Siem Riep but now I visited Phnom Phen as well and together with my students learned so much more about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, the culpability of the United States in what transpired there and the lasting danger of the landmines that are an ongoing legacy of the war years in Cambodia.
I also spent time with my students working in a local school in Cambodia and as I learned more about the lives of the teaching staff and students I realized how the legacies of the war and Khmer Rouge regime continue to impact people in Cambodia today.
Watching First They Killed My Father brought back many memories of Cambodia for me. But most of all it reminded me yet again of the futility of war, the never-ending legacy of war and the way war always has its most devastating effects on children.
First They Killed My Father is available on Netflix.
Other posts about Cambodia…………