Enemies of the People: film screening and Q&A with Co-director Rob Lemkin
One of the most harrowing and compelling personal documentaries of our time, Enemies of the People exposes for the first time the truth about the Killing Fields and the Khmer Rouge who were behind Cambodia’s horrific genocide. More than simply an inquiry into Cambodia’s experience, however, Enemies of the People is a profound meditation on the nature of good and evil, shedding light on the capacity of some people to do terrible things and for others to forgive them.
Winner of a dozen top documentary festival awards, including a Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the Grand Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Festival, this is a riveting film that takes audiences as close to witnessing evil as they are ever likely to get. It is also a personal journey into the heart of darkness by journalist/filmmaker Thet Sambath, whose family was wiped out in the Killing Fields, but whose patience and discipline elicits unprecedented on-camera confessions from perpetrators at all levels of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy. This is investigative journalism of the highest order.
In 1974, Thet Sambath‟s father became one of the nearly two million people who were murdered by the Khmer Rouge when he refused to give them his buffalo. Sambath’s mother was forced to marry a Khmer Rouge militiaman and died in childbirth in 1976, while his eldest brother disappeared in 1977. Sambath himself escaped Cambodia at age 10 when the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979.
Fast forward to 1998, and Sambath, now a journalist, got to know the children of some senior Khmer Rouge cadre and gradually earned their trust.
Then, for a decade, he spent weekends visiting the home of the most senior surviving leader, Nuon Chea, aka Brother Number Two under Pol Pot. “But he never used to say anything different from what he told Western journalists,” says Sambath, “I was low-ranking,” “I knew nothing,‟ “I am not a killer.‟ Then one day he said to me “Sambath, I trust you, you are the person I would like to tell my story to. Ask me what you want to know.‟ For the next five years he told me the truth, as he saw it, including all the details of killing.”
Sambath also won the confidence of lower-level Khmer Rouge soldiers, now ordinary fathers and grandfathers, who demonstrated to him how they slit people’s throats. For these murderers, it was the first time they admitted what they had done. He taped their interactions and discussions about the killings, and together with British documentarian Rob Lemkin they created this landmark film.
For Sambath, it has been an ongoing, lifelong personal journey to discover what was behind such horror; he neglected both his family and his own happiness in the search for truth with hope of reconciliation. Enemies of the People is at once a cinematically beautiful, chillingly insightful, and deeply personal piece of documentary filmmaking.
Co-hosted by the Department of Sociology