FILM AND ACTORS IN CAMBODIA

FILM IN CAMBODIA

Cambodians have traditionally loved films. It is not unusual to see long lones forming outside theaters in Phnom Penh. Many people today watch pirated DVDs in video rooms.

Phnom Penh used to have the biggest film industry in Southeast Asia. It was given a big push by King Sihanouk, who loved films and made some and starred in some. One of the biggest Cambodian film hits was a love story about two people reincarnated as snakes.

The film industry collapsed during the Khmer Rouge as many film makers and actors were killed. The actress who starred in the reincarnated snakes movie escaped to France. She returned to Cambodia in 1996 and has been instrumental in reviving the Cambodian film industry.

Reporting from Phnom Pehn on the inaugural Cambodia International Film Festival, Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “On an unseasonably cool evening last month, nearly 700 people filed into the Chenla Theater for the final night of the Cambodia International Film Festival. The four-day event had drawn sizable audiences to films from more than 30 countries, but it was the premiere on this night of a Cambodian film called "Lost Loves" that attracted the festival's largest crowd. As TV crews angled for shots of the well-coifed cast members stepping onto the red carpet, inside the theater multigenerational families chatted excitedly and students snapped cellphone photos and waved to friends. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2010]

King Sihanouk and the current king, his son, Norodom Sihamoni both made films. See Royal Family of Cambodia.

Cambodian Film Makers

and Films Shot in Cambodia

Rithy Panh Nugroho is Cambodia’s most well-known film director. He was 12 when the Khmer Rouge siezed power. He managed to survvce through the Khmer Rouge years and used that period for the inspiration of many fo his films. He has made several documentaries, including one that graphically recounts the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, and a couple of feature films. Rithy Panh’s One Fine Evening After the War is about the relationship between a bar girl and soldier returned from fighting the Khmer Rogue.

Films that were about or partly about include Spaulding Grey’s Swimming to Cambodia , Apocalypse Now , Holy Lola and Small Voices: The Stories of Cambodia's Children . Children of Krouar Thmey is a documentary about 32 orphans in a refugee camps.

The 1964 film version of Lord Jim , with Peter O’Toole, was shot in Cambodia. The crew braved cobras, corrupt officials and suffocating heat. No foreign crew attempted to make a film there again until the early 2000s, when some scenes from Laura Croft: Tomb Raider were shot at Angkor Wat. The Cambodian government was upset by that film because it showed local people wearing Vietnamese style hats. Other films shot or partly shot in Cambodia include Act of Valora4, To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey and Transformers: Dark of the Moon .

City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts (2003) is crime drama set and filmed in Cambodia. Shot at a cost of $10 million, it stars and was directed by Matt Dillon in his directorial debut. Inspired by tales of shady expatriates living in Cambodia, Dillon wrote the screenplay with the help of a veteran Hollywood screenwriter.

City of Ghosts is about a New York yuppy, played by Dillon, who is involved in a major insurance scam and flees to Phnom Penh, to search for his mentor, played by James Caan. The story follows the Dillon character as he indulges himself in sex and drugs while staying at a sleazy guesthouse run by Gerard Depardieu.

Shooting was hampered by monkey problems. A Cambodian monkey was hired to do some scenes but was fired after it bit off part of the ear of a sound lady. A trained monkey from Thailand was smuggled in to replace it but the Thai monkey escaped and made a big mess at the local post office. The crew also had to deal with land mines and security.

City of Ghosts got pretty good reviews. Lawrence Van Gelder wrote in the International Herald Tribune, that the film was “richly atmospheric and suspenseful” and successfully blended “history, cruelty, vitality and the enduring impulse towards love and decency in a story that contrasts deadly characters driven by greed with people responsive to love and family and trust.”

Killing Fields

The film The Killing Fields (1984), directed by Roland Joffé, was about the relationship between New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg and his friend and interpreter the Cambodian Dith Pran during the takeover of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge and the hardships endured by Dith Pran during the Khmer Rouge period and his escape to Thailand. Shot in Thailand. "The Killing Fields” won three Academy Awards in 1984. Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who played Dith Pran won an Academy Award as best supporting actor.

In the film Schanberg, played by Sam Waterston, arranging for Mr. Dith’s wife and children to be evacuated from Phnom Penh as danger mounted. Dith insisted on staying in Cambodia with Mr. Schanberg to keep reporting the news. He believed that his country could be saved only if other countries grasped the gathering tragedy and responded. A dramatic moment, both in reality and cinematically, came when Mr. Dith saved Mr. Schanberg and other Western journalists from certain execution by talking fast and persuasively to the trigger-happy soldiers who had captured them.

After the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, Schanberg, Pran, journalist Jon Swain and photographer Al Rockoff (played by John Malkovich.) were arrested and thrown into an armored personnel carrier by angry Khmer Rouge soldiers. Recalling the event, Schanberg wrote, "As we get into our car and start to leave the compound, some heavily armed Khmer Rouge soldiers charge through the main gate. They wave us out of our car, put guns to our heads and stomachs and order us to put our hands on our heads...They take everything—our car, cameras , typewriters, radio, knapsacks—and push us into an armored personal carrier."

"Suddenly, after a 40 minute ride, the vehicles stops and the rear door clangs open. We are ordered through the door, we see two Khmer Rouge soldiers, their rifles on their hips pointing directly at us...We are thinking the same thing—they're going to do it here and roll us down the bank into the river...we climb out, like zombies.”

Dith Pran had refused to leave even though he was ordered to do so by the Khmer Rouge soldiers. "Pran resumes is pleas, searching out a soldier who looks like an officer." Schanberg wrote, "For a solid hour he keeps appealing, cajoling, begging for our lives. The officer sends a courier on a motor-bike to some headquarters in the center of the city. We wait, still frozen but trying to hope, as Pran continues talking. Finally, the courier returns, more talk—and then miraculously the rifles are lowered." Rockoff later told Reuters, "They were very firm. I sensed something was about to happen when one of them put up his pistol, and held it to my right temple, and one of the others standing behind me moved away. I figured he doesn't want to get splattered."

Despite his frantic effort, Mr. Schanberg could not keep Mr. Dith from being sent to the countryside to join millions working as virtual slaves. Schanberg returned to the United States and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia. He accepted it on behalf of Mr. Dith as well.

Dith Pran

Dith Pran was a Cambodian translator and photographer whose gruesome ordeal in the killing fields of Cambodia and friendship with New York Times reporter friend Sydney H. Schanberg was re-created in a 1984 movie by the same name. After he escaped from Cambodia to the United States he worked as a photojournalist for The New York Times. He lived in Woodbridge, N.J. and the died at the age of 65 in 2008.

In his obituary, Douglas Martin wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Dith saw his country descend into a living hell as he scraped and scrambled to survive the barbarous revolutionary regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when as many as two million Cambodians — a third of the population — were killed, experts estimate. Mr. Dith survived through nimbleness, guile and sheer desperation. His credo: Make no move unless there was a 50-50 chance of not being killed. [Source: Douglas Martin, New York Times, March 31, 2008 +]

“He had been a journalistic partner of Mr. Schanberg, a Times correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia. He translated, took notes and pictures, and helped Mr. Schanberg maneuver in a fast-changing milieu. With the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Mr. Schanberg was forced from the country, and Mr. Dith became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists. Mr. Schanberg wrote about Mr. Dith in newspaper articles and in The New York Times Magazine, in a 1980 cover article titled “The Death and Life of Dith Pran.” (A book by the same title appeared in 1985.) The story became the basis of the movie “The Killing Fields.” +

“For years there was no news of Mr. Dith, except for a false rumor that he had been fed to crocodiles. His brother had been. After more than four years of beatings, backbreaking labor and a diet of a tablespoon of rice a day, Mr. Dith escaped over the Thai border on Oct. 3, 1979. An overjoyed Mr. Schanberg flew to greet him. “To all of us who have worked as foreign reporters in frightening places,” Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said on Sunday, “Pran reminds us of a special category of journalistic heroism — the local partner, the stringer, the interpreter, the driver, the fixer, who knows the ropes, who makes your work possible, who often becomes your friend, who may save your life, who shares little of the glory, and who risks so much more than you do.” +

“Mr. Dith moved to New York and in 1980 became a photographer for The Times, where he was noted for his imaginative pictures of city scenes and news events. In one, he turned the camera on mourners rather than the coffin to snatch an evocative moment at the funeral of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, who was murdered in 1990. In an e-mail message on Sunday, Mr. Schanberg recalled Mr. Dith’s theory of photojournalism: “You have to be a pineapple. You have to have a hundred eyes.” “I’m a very lucky man to have had Pran as my reporting partner and even luckier that we came to call each other brother,” Mr. Schanberg said. “His mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary. It became my mission too. My reporting could not have been done without him.” +

“Outside The Times, Mr. Dith spoke out about the Cambodian genocide, appearing before student groups and other organizations. “I’m a one-person crusade,” he said. Dr. Ngor, the physician turned actor who had himself survived the killing fields, had joined with Mr. Dith in their fight for justice. He was shot to death in 1996 in Los Angeles by a teenage gang member. “It seems like I lost one hand,” Mr. Dith said of Dr. Ngor’s death. “ +

Life of Dith Pran

Douglas Martin wrote in the New York Times: “Dith Pran was born on Sept. 23, 1942, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a provincial town near the ancient temples at Angkor Wat. His father was a public-works official. Having learned French at school and taught himself English, Mr. Dith was hired as a translator for the United States Military Assistance Command. When Cambodia severed ties with the United States in 1965, he worked with a British film crew, then as a hotel receptionist. [Source: Douglas Martin, New York Times, March 31, 2008 +]

“In the early 1970s, as unrest in neighboring Vietnam spread and Cambodia slipped into civil war, the Khmer Rouge grew more formidable. Tourism ended. Mr. Dith interpreted for foreign journalists. When working for Mr. Schanberg, he taught himself to take pictures. When the Khmer Rouge won control in 1975, Mr. Dith became part of a monstrous social experiment: the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from the cities and the suppression of the educated classes with the goal of re-creating Cambodia as an agricultural nation. +

“To avoid summary execution, Mr. Dith hid that he was educated or that he knew Americans. He passed himself off as a taxi driver. He even threw away his money and dressed as a peasant.Over the next 4 ½ years, he worked in the fields and at menial jobs. For sustenance, people ate insects and rats and even the exhumed corpses of the recently executed, he said. +

“In November 1978, Vietnam, by then a unified Communist nation after the end of the Vietnam War, invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. Mr. Dith went home to Siem Reap, where he learned that 50 members of his family had been killed; wells were filled with skulls and bones. The Vietnamese made him village chief. But he fled when he feared that they had learned of his American ties. His 60-mile trek to the Thai border was fraught with danger. Two companions were killed by a land mine. He had an emotional reunion with his wife, Ser Moeun Dith, and four children in San Francisco. Though he and his wife later divorced, she was by his bedside in his last weeks of his life, bringing him rice noodles. Mr. Dith was divorced from his second wife, Kim DePaul. +

Death of Haing Ngor, the Actor Who Played Dith Pran

In the film, Dith Pran was played by Haing Ngor, a Cambodian doctor who survived the Killing Fields and won an academy award for his performance in the film. In February 1996, he was shot outside his home in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Some Cambodians suspect he might have been murdered by a Khmer Rouge operative who killed him for his ant-communist activities.

The killers, however turned out to three members of an Asian street gang who killed Ngor during a failed robbery attempt to get money for crack cocaine. According to one report e was shot because he refused to give up a gold locket that contained a picture of his late wife, who was killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Cambodian Films About the Khmer Rouge

Reporting at new films about the Khmer Rouge shown at the inaugural Cambodia International Film Festival in 2010, Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “"Lost Loves" by 45-year-old Chhay Bora, tells the true story of a woman who lost most of her family during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. It is the first feature film about the Khmer Rouge by an all-Cambodian cast and crew in nearly 25 years. It is only the second such movie made since the regime's demise (the first, a mid-1980s action movie called "Shadow of Darkness," did not make much of an impression here). [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2010 **]

“Together with another landmark Cambodian-made film released this year, "Enemies of the People," a documentary co-directed by and starring 42-year-old journalist Thet Sambath that examines the motives behind the mass slaughter, the movies are a sign that Cambodian filmmakers are finally ready to grapple with the traumas of the past. "The Khmer Rouge has been a complex and political issue for a long time. But after 30 years, Cambodia is ready to cope with this," said Chhang Youk, a survivor and the country's foremost researcher of the regime. "You will begin to see more films about this subject now." **

“Both directors, who are self-taught and were boys during the Khmer Rouge, said their goal in making the films was to spur discussion about a topic that many people here would prefer to forget. "Helping people understand history is the most important thing I can do," Thet Sambath said. "I want Cambodians to know the truth about what happened. Then we can move forward as a country."The films are generating a level of discussion about the Khmer Rouge that is rare in Cambodia. During many harrowing scenes in "Lost Loves," there were gasps from the audience, and many cried. "I'm no longer angry about the Khmer Rouge," Chhay Bora, who lost two brothers to the regime, told the crowd. "I just want to share with the nation, and with the world, Cambodia's untold story." "When our parents tell us about their experiences during the Khmer Rouge, we have a hard time believing them," Lim Seang Heng, a 22-year-old university graduate, said after the premiere, echoing a common sentiment. "Telling stories is not enough, because we can't see. Film allows us to see." **

“Although "Lost Loves" and "Enemies of the People" are very different movies — the former focuses on the nightmarish experiences of one family, while the latter investigates larger issues such as motives and reconciliation — they are complementary. "Lost Loves," co-written by and starring Chhay Bora's wife, actress Kauv Sotheary, follows Phnom Penh resident Amara, a character based on the actress' mother, as she is shipped with her family into a forced labor camp in the countryside. She endures overwork, near starvation and the death of family members before emerging from her nightmare shellshocked, yet defiantly hopeful, after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979. **

“Shot in the Cambodian countryside, "Lost Loves" is at times strikingly beautiful, featuring wide-angle shots of shimmering rice paddies and skies smeared purple with the setting sun. But these scenes are punctuated by acts of brutality, turning the landscape into a "prison of torture and killing," as Amara says in the film. As Amara adapts to this alien world, the familiar structures of Cambodian life crumble around her: She is separated from her family, cruel and uneducated children take positions of authority over adults, and unending, grinding labor under the hot sun becomes the central fact of her life. The mysterious Angkar ("organization" in English), the Khmer Rouge's name for itself, is omnipresent yet somehow always hidden. "The village chiefs endlessly talked about Angkar, Angkar, Angkar, but I didn't know what Angkar was," Amara says in the film. **

“The directors could not turn for help to the country's few film studios, which invest mostly in low-budget horror movies, the only reliable way to draw audiences to the two remaining cinemas in Phnom Penh. "People told me I was crazy to make this kind of film," Chhay Bora said. Regardless, the films have drawn capacity audiences at screenings in Phnom Penh, and there are plans to show them in rural Cambodia through unconventional means, such as at community forums held by nongovernmental organizations.

Enemies of the People

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “"Enemies of the People" was as one of 15 contenders for the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2010. Director Thet Sambath, a reporter at the English-language Phnom Penh Post, spent 10 years traveling alone with a camera into the countryside to interview Nuon Chea, second in command to the late leader Pol Pot and the regime's highest-ranking surviving leader, and foot soldiers who carried out the regime's murderous policies. English director Rob Lemkin worked with Thet Sambath to craft this raw footage into a finished film. The director was driven by a need to understand the killers' motives (his parents and brother died under the Khmer Rouge) and to share what he found with other Cambodians. "No one has confessed to killing during the regime," he said. "I felt that maybe I could talk to the killers and understand why they killed." [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2010 **]

In "Enemies of the People," Nuon Chea admits for the first time on record that the leadership ordered executions, about which he expresses remorse. But it is the director's interviews with two low-level killers, Soun and Khoun, that are most haunting. They speak matter-of-factly about killing their victims by slashing their throats, dumping their bodies in mass graves and, in one scene, drinking bile from a human gall bladder.

Although it was men like Soun and Khoun who killed Thet Sambath's brother, the director was able to forgive them, an act of reconciliation that he hopes can be repeated throughout Cambodia. "I pity them. They don't understand how they ended up becoming killers," he said. In the film, Soun says he's haunted by shame and regret. "But I want to tell the truth exactly as it happened," he says onscreen. "Otherwise we will be gone soon and the next generation won't know the story."

“Missing Picture”---Cambodia Film About the Khmer Rouge—Nominated for an Oscar

“Missing Picture”—a 2012 film about the Khmer Rouge by Cambodian director Rithy Panh—was nominated for an Academy Award in the category for best Foreign Language Film in 2014. It’s was the first Cambodian film to be nominated for an Oscar. Jocelyn Gecker of Associated Press wrote: ““The Missing Picture” is a poetic and highly original film in which the starring roles are played by static clay figures. It may be his most celebrated work yet: Even before the historic Oscar nomination, it won the top prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, an award for especially creative or thought-provoking films. The nomination itself is a victory for Panh and for Cambodia, where a film industry is only now re-emerging after Pol Pot’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979. [Source: Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press, February 27, 2014]

“Rithy Panh has a special way of looking straight back into the nightmare,” said Thai filmmaker and movie critic Kong Rithdee. “He looks back and remains very calm and honest about the subject matter. He never rushes to judge.” Kong calls “The Missing Picture” one of the most memorable movies ever made about the Khmer Rouge era. “You hardly sense any anger,” Kong said. “As the viewer, you feel angry, but the film doesn’t feel angry.”

The film, based on Panh’s 2012 memoir, “The Elimination,” intertwines Cambodia’s national nightmare with Panh’s personal story. It mixes archival video footage, Khmer Rouge propaganda clips and a first-person narration in French. To represent his deceased relatives, Panh used hundreds of carefully carved clay figures — an idea that came to him only after he started filming. After initially struggling to find a way to portray people and places that no longer exist, Panh discovered that one of his set designers could sculpt brilliantly with clay. “I saw something pure in it,” he said. “We all come from dust and earth. And after the filming my characters returned to the earth and dust. I found that idea to be beautiful.”

The title “The Missing Picture” was partly inspired by Panh’s search for a photograph of an execution that a Khmer Rouge guard once told him about. “The missing picture — maybe it’s the images of genocide that don’t exist. Maybe they’re lost, maybe they’re buried somewhere, maybe someone hid them,” said Panh. “What interested me was the search for this image, which is what led me to tell the story.” The title also refers to a more personal picture he will never get to see. “It’s the one that I miss the most. It’s to see my parents get older, to be able to share time with them now, to help them, to love them, to give them back what they gave me,” he said, lowering his voice. “I would prefer to have my parents with me than to make movies about the Khmer Rouge.”

Rithy Panh: Director of Cambodia film “Missing Picture” Nominated for an Oscar

Jocelyn Gecker of Associated Press wrote: “The office of Cambodia’s most celebrated filmmaker is filled with books on the Khmer Rouge. On his desk, on the walls, in the filing cabinets and in every corner of Rithy Panh’s dimly lit office are memories of his country’s greatest tragedy. Probing the painful past started as a coping mechanism for Panh and evolved into a career. For the past two and a half decades, Panh has made movies that he considers his duty as a survivor, and his debt to the dead. latest, “The Missing Picture,” is the first time he has focused on his own story of loss and tormented survival. [Source: Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press, February 27, 2014]

The 51-year-old filmmaker said he makes movies because “I had to find a way to work with my memories.” “When you survive a genocide, it’s like you’ve been radiated by a nuclear bomb,” Panh said during an interview at his Phnom Penh office, which is inside a film preservation center that he runs. “It’s like you’ve been killed once already, and you come back with death inside of you.”

Many of Pahn’s movies have been documentaries that have earned critical acclaim but limited commercial success. He has interviewed the regime’s former torturers, prison guards and survivors as part of his conviction that Cambodia must face its past to build a better future. “I don’t have the impression of going to Los Angeles all alone,” said Panh, describing himself as brimming with “enormous pride” a few days before leaving for Hollywood. “I feel like I’m going with my whole country.”

Panh was 13 when Pol Pot’s army entered Phnom Penh, the capital, on April 17, 1975. It emptied the cities, shut schools and hospitals and forced the entire population to labor in the countryside. During the four-year genocide, Panh watched his parents, his sisters and several young nieces and nephews die of illness and hunger. After the regime fell in 1979, Panh fled to Thailand and then took refuge in Paris, a place that remains for him “a kind of womb,” a city at the right distance from his haunted memories that nurtured his intellect. It was there he discovered his passion for making movies and studied filmmaking. Most of his films, including “The Missing Picture,” are joint French-Cambodian productions. After a decade abroad, Panh returned home to start making movies with the unique perspective of both an insider and an outsider, say those who have studied his work.

Actors

One of the biggest stars in the early 1990s was Khay Praseth, the star of Naught Boys . He has appeared in dozens of films and posters all over Cambodia. He told National Geographic, “Yes, when I walk down the street most everyone recognizes me, especially the girls.”

In July 1999, the popular actress Piseth Peaklica was killed when two gun man opened fire on her while she was shopping at a market in Phnom Penh with her 7-year-old niece. The 34-year-old was dancer in the Royal Ballet was best known for her leading role in Shadow of Darkness , a film made by King Sihanouk. Huge crowds gathered outside the hospital to wish her well. Some offered to donate their blood. She hung on for a week before she died.

There were rumors that she was assassinated because of an affair with the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. According to one account Hun Sen fell in love with Peaklica but called off the affair after Hun Sen’ wife got wind of what was happening. A concerned police chief warned the actress to break off the affair. She didn’t and was gunned down on the orders of Hun Sen’s wife.

As proof the affair existed, Peaklica’s family produced a love poem written by Hun Sen to Peaklica and diary written by Peaklica with an entry over her unhappiness over the ending of her affair with “darling Sen.” Hun Sen denied the rumors and took the opportunity to congratulate himself for allowing a free press that can print rumors about its leaders.

Jackie Chan’s Mission in Cambodia

In April 2004, UNICEF reported: “Newly appointed UNICEF/UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan wrapped up a busy three-day mission to Cambodia during which he played with HIV-positive children, blew up landmines, met Prime Minister Hun Sen and pledged to do “whatever I can do” to promote the cause of children. The charismatic and popular action film star is know in Cambodia by his Chinese name “Chhin Long.” In his first official act as a Goodwill Ambassador, Chan had lunch with 30 young people affected by HIV/AIDS and visited an exhibit of life-sized self portraits they created to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS issues. At a packed press conference Chan told journalists he was “very touched” by the exhibit and what the young people had told him of their experiences. “I really want to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against the victims of HIV/AIDS,” Chan said. [Source: UNICEF, April 28, 2004]

Chan had a 45-minute audience with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, during which they discussed the impact of HIV/AIDS and landmines in Cambodia. In the meeting, Chan also raised the issue of traffic accidents and drowning, which now kill more children than landmines in Cambodia each year. The audience with the Prime Minister was followed by a visit to NYMEO, a local NGO that provides care and support for women and children affected by HIV/AIDS through self help groups at a drop-in centre and in the local community.

Later Chan taped a TV spot that promotes condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The TV spot, being produced by the BBC World Service trust as part of a larger HIV/AIDS and child health media campaign, features Chan and an animated condom character called “Loak Chuoy”. In the spot, Chan introduces Loak Chuoy as “another action hero” and says that “when it comes to HIV, even I need this guy’s help”. For a public education campaign promoting the use of helmets by motorcyclists, Chen donned a helmet and posed for photographs aboard a motorcycle.

The day before Chan traveled to Siem Reap, home to Cambodia’s fabled Angkor Wat temple complex, to visit HIV/AIDS and landmine rehabilitation and awareness projects supported by UNICEF. At Wat Themy, a pagoda where Buddhist monks care for orphans and families affected by HIV/AIDS, Chan talked at length with the monks and staff members of Salvation Centre Cambodia, a local NGO, about their work. He also toured the facilities for families affected by HIV/AIDS, and embraced and played with several young children living with HIV/AIDS. At the Provincial Rehabilitation Centre in Siem Reap, Chan was briefed by Handicap International on the landmine problem in Cambodia and shown how artificial limbs are fitted to landmine victims. Cambodia At the centre, Chan looked on as several men and women who had lost limbs due to landmine explosions were trained how to walk, climb stairs and balance themselves on their new prosthesis.

At Preah Daek elementary school just outside the city of Siem Reap, Chan and an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred children watched as a small group of schoolchildren presented short and amusing skits aimed at building awareness of landmines and how to avoid injury from them. One of the skits featured a big boy beating up a much smaller boy, who unexpectedly ran up to Chan and begged for his assistance. Chan happily began acting in the skit, telling the smaller boy he could teach him martial arts, but that “martial arts are only to protect yourself, not for fighting”. He told the bigger boy that “I can teach you to be stronger, but when you are strong you must use your strength only to help those that are weaker, and not for fighting”.

A couple of kilometers from the school, Chan inspected examples of the various kinds of landmines and UXOs (unexploded ordinance) that have been unearthed in Siem Reap and other heavily mined provinces in the northwest of the country. Then, with the assistance of a demining team from the Cambodia Mine Action Committee (CMAC), he pushed the detonator for the controlled destruction of one anti-tank and six anti-personnel mines. The force of the explosion sent dirt and debris more than 50 meters into the air, surprising nearly everyone, including Chan.

Despite temperatures that exceeded 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit), the ever-energetic Chan led his team and a pack of steadily wilting journalists on visits to Siem Reap’s ancient Bayon and Angkor Wat temples. At Angkor Wat, Chan accommodated photo requests from dozens of people – as he did throughout the entire mission – and soon had a couple of hundred tourists tagging along as he toured the temple galleries.

Cambodian Police Block Mia Farrow

In January 2008, Ker Munthit of Associated Press wrote: Cambodian police blocked Mia Farrow from holding a genocide memorial ceremony at a Khmer Rouge prison, at one point forcefully pushing her group away from a barricade. Farrow, who is working with the U.S.-based advocacy group Dream for Darfur, was in Cambodia as part of a seven-nation tour of countries that have suffered genocide to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. "My heart— our hearts—are breaking for what happened in Cambodia today, especially for the survivors of genocide," Farrow told a news conference after the confrontation with police. [Source:Ker Munthit, Associated Press, January 20, 2008 ^]

“The Cambodian government had barred the ceremony several days earlier and police on sealed off all roads leading to the Khmer Rouge's infamous Tuol Sleng prison, which is now a genocide museum. The American actress and seven other activists arrived at one of the barricades, about 170 yards from the museum's gate and refused to go away, linking their arms in a human chain. Farrow held a bunch of white lotus flowers, a traditional offering for the dead. "Our goal today was to deliver these flowers in deepest respect ... to honor those who have perished here in Cambodia and in Darfur and in all genocides everywhere," Farrow told the police and journalists. ^

“Police started pushing the group, shouting, "Go! Go! Go!" and blowing whistles. Farrow and the others eventually returned to a waiting van and drove off, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Nobody was hurt or arrested during the standoff, said Theary Seng, director of Cambodian advocacy group Center for Social Development, which was working with Farrow. Farrow had planned to light an Olympic-style torch outside the former prison to send a message to China—the next Olympic host and one of Sudan's major trading partners—to press the Sudanese government to end abuses in Darfur. More than 200,000 people have died in Darfur since 2003 when ethnic African rebels took arms against the Arab-dominated central government. Khartoum denies accusations it committed widespread war crimes. ^

“The Cambodian government, which has strong economic and political ties with China, said days ago it would prevent the 62-year-old actress from going through with the ceremony. It accused the actress of having a political rather than humanitarian agenda. Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith accused Farrow's group of trying "to exploit the bones of the dead Cambodians" to futher a political cause. "Why don't they just go to China to do that," the spokesman said. Farrow denied that her intentions were political and said she was determined to press ahead with the ceremony. "It's pretty harsh to be against a ceremony that honors the victims of Darfur and genocide survivors everywhere," Farrow said. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979. Thousands of Khmer Rouge prisoners were tortured at the Tuol Sleng prison before being executed outside the capital at the site known as "the killing fields."” ^

Angelina Jolie and Cambodia

Angelina Jolie stated that she first became personally aware of worldwide humanitarian crises while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) in Cambodia. She contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for information on international trouble spots.

Emma-Kate Symons wrote in Australian Women’s Weekly: Angelina Jolie “put Angkor Wat on the tourism map as action hero Lara Croft in Tomb Raider...The crowds at the "Tomb Raider temple", as it is now known at Angkor Wat, are largest at the tree where Angelina Jolie was immortalised as the crusading Lara Croft. Tourists from Korea, China, Eastern Europe and Australia troop to the spot where she emerged from the temple and try to re-enact her moves for their own cameras. "Is this where they filmed it?" a girl demands of her mother in a distinctly Australian accent. Tour guides, taxi drivers and hotel staff at the closest town, Siem Reap, all talk about Angelina and how she stayed at this hotel or drank at that one. There are cocktails named after her. It was during the filming of Tomb Raider that Angelina fell in love with Cambodia. In turn, she helped make the Angkor ruins famous, turning them into one of Asia's biggest tourist drawcards and bringing hotels, tourists and, most importantly, dollars to the once sleepy town. [Source: Emma-Kate Symons, Australian Women’s Weekly, June 28, 2011]

See Adoptions

In July, 2005, King Norodom Sihamoni awarded Angelina Jolie Cambodian citizenship for her conservation work in the country. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier offered Jolie citizenship for her work in nature conservancy in Cambodia. She said she would accept the citizenship but did not elaborate how she would accomplish that with her U.S. citizenship.

Angelina Jolie’s Charity Work in Cambodia

Jolie has established several charitable organizations. In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation—named the Maddox Jolie Project until 2007—which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia's northwestern province Battambang. In 2006, she partnered with the Global Health Committee to establish the Maddox Chivan Children's Center, a daycare facility for children afflicted and affected by HIV in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. [Source: Wikipedia]

Emma-Kate Symons wrote in Australian Women’s Weekly: “When Angelina Jolie adopted an abandoned boy in Cambodia, no one realised she would go on to pour millions of dollars into his homeland and make a lasting difference to some of the world's poorest people. As the town of Samlout in north-western Cambodia comes into view, naked children and crumbling shacks give way to painted wooden houses. Kids in school uniforms, emblazoned with the initials MJP, walk along a dirt road past orderly fields of crops and vegetables. Poverty in this former Khmer Rouge guerilla stronghold seems less desperate than in other regions. Welcome to Maddox Jolie-Pitt country. [Source: Emma-Kate Symons, Australian Women’s Weekly, June 28, 2011]

Few little boys aged nine can lay claim to their own philanthropic foundation, let alone a sleepy corner of a nation literally named after him. Yet Maddox Jolie-Pitt is no ordinary youngster and his Hollywood-backed presence in this isolated region of Cambodia, on its protected north-western frontier with Thailand, is inescapable. Today, he is the jet-setting scion of Tinseltown's most glamorous couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, collectively known as Brangelina. Along with his five siblings (from three different countries), who lead a "luxury nomad" existence in the wake of their globe-trotting movie star mum and dad, he is a paparazzi favourite from Paris to Venice, New York and Los Angeles.

In Samlout, on the edge of the Cardamom mountains, however, Maddox and his high-powered parents are known for far more than their celebrity. An estimated 5000 people living in 10 villages owe their livelihoods (or at least part of them) to him and his adopted mother and father, through the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, or MJP as it is known, created by Angelina in 2003.

Cambodian Charity Threatens Jolie with Lawsuit

In November 2006, Reuters reported: “A Cambodian charity threatened today to sue Angelina Jolie for breach of contract, saying the Hollywood star had reneged on a promise to give 1.5 million dollars over five years to wildlife conservation. However, Stephan Bognar, the Cambodia-based head of the star's Maddox Jolie Pitt Project, said the relationship with Cambodian Vision in Development (CVD) had ended amicably in December because their aid work was ''moving on to a new level''. ''Angelina and I will be unveiling our new programme and committment to Cambodia in about a month,'' Bognar told Reuters from the western town of Battambang. [Source: Reuters, November 1, 2006]

Much of the organisation's work would centre around community development, rather than wildlife conservation, he said. Besides accusing Jolie of breaking funding promises, CVD head Mounh Sarath said his organisation had taken exception to reported suggestions from Jolie's lawyer that it had stolen some of her donations and was considering a libel action. ''I have been asking Jolie and her lawyer to give me an appropriate answer, but so far no answer,'' Mounh Sarath told Reuters from the western town of Battambang. ''Now I give her one week and if there is still no answer I will a file suit in the local court of Battambang.'' The Oscar-winning actress, who adopted a Cambodian son, Maddox, in 2002, was granted special citizenship of the war-scarred southeast Asian nation last year in recognition of her environmental contributions. In 2003, Mounh Sarath said Jolie had paid out 350,000 dollars to kick off a long-term project to set up a 20,000 hectare wildlife sanctuary in a jungle-clad area once controlled by Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge. It is not clear how much more money was paid out. REUTERS

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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