In the mid-70s, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge converted the Tuol Sleng High School in Phnom Penh into the notorious S21 detention center. Between 1975 and 1977, roughly 17,000 people passed through its doors. Only seven survived. Filmmaker Rithy Panh, who himself spent four years in a Khmer Rouge labor camp, works with the same sense of devotion and relentless pursuit of truth as Claude Lanzmann. He accompanies the detention center’s official painter, Vann Nath, on his first visit to S21 in more than 20 years, during which he confronts several of his former captors and tormentors. Like Lanzmann, Panh uses cinema to get the facts on record: the guards re-enact their former routines, victims are remembered and named, and their stories are told. And we learn that the terror of the Khmer Rouge was felt by torturers and victims alike: for four years, an entire society was held in a grip of murderous terror. Essential viewing, a potent, scrupulously constructed act of witness, and a step toward reconciliation with an unfathomable past. –New York Film Festival
Rithy Panh was born in Phnom Penh. His father was a school teacher and inspector of primary schools.
His family and other residents were expelled from the Cambodian capital in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge. Rithy’s family suffered under the regime, and after he saw his parents, siblings and other relatives die of overwork or malnutrition, Rithy escaped to Thailand in 1979, where he lived for a time in a refugee camp at Mairut.
Eventually, he made his way to Paris, France. It was while he was attending vocational school to learn carpentry that he was handed a video camera during a party that he become interested in filmmaking. He went on to graduate from the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (Institute for the Advanced Cinematographic Studies). He returned to Cambodia in 1990, while still using Paris as a home base.
His first documentary feature film, Site 2, about a family of Cambodian refugees in a camp on the Thai-Cambodian border in the 1980s, was awarded… read more