Exploring the Mind of Nuon Chea, A Khmer Rouge Leader Responsible for the Deaths of Millions.

This November, the Human Rights Program hosted the visit of Rob Lemkin, director and co-producer of the award-winning documentary, Enemies of the People, for the Minnesota premiere of the film. Enemies of the People follows Thet Sambath, a Cambodian journalist intent on uncovering the secrets of the Khmer Rouge regime whose policies resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Among the dead were Sambath's parents and his brother.

To learn the highly protected secrets of the Khmer Rouge, Sambath had to earn the trust of Nuon Chea, the highest ranking Khmer Rouge still alive today. It took seven years before Nuon Chea opened up about the innermost decisions of the Khmer Rouge regime to Sambath. Ultimately, Nuon Chea admitted his involvement in decisions that led to systematic killings. Such orders were seen by the Khmer Rouge leaders as necessary to protect the Kampuchean state along the ideological lines that he and Pol Pot had envisioned. Chea, along with four other Khmer Rouge leaders are now awaiting trial at the international criminal tribunal in Cambodia, facing charges of crimes against humanity for the "Killing Fields."

Enemies of the People.JPGThis November, the Human Rights Program hosted the visit of Rob Lemkin, director and co-producer of the award-winning documentary, Enemies of the People, for the Minnesota premiere of the film. Enemies of the People follows Thet Sambath,
To learn the highly protected secrets of the Khmer Rouge, Sambath had to earn the trust of Nuon Chea, the highest ranking Khmer Rouge still alive today. It took seven years before Nuon Chea opened up about the innermost decisions of the Khmer Rouge regime to Sambath. Ultimately, Nuon Chea admitted his involvement in decisions that led to systematic killings. Such orders were seen by the Khmer Rouge leaders as necessary to protect the Kampuchean state along the ideological lines that he and Pol Pot had envisioned. Chea, along with four other Khmer Rouge leaders are now awaiting trial at the international criminal tribunal in Cambodia, facing charges of crimes against humanity for the "Killing Fields."

Beyond its value as an explanation of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, the documentary provides critical insights into the psychology behind genocide violence. Besides its footage of Nuon Chea, the documentary follows the stories of a couple Khmer Rouge foot soldiers who actually carried out the killings as part of the machinery of violence. The low level perpetrators were perhaps initially motivated by ideology, but continued to do the work primarily out of fear and upon the orders of the next higher levels of authority. Mainly, they seemed concerned about how to get the "work" done, and recruited others to help them in the process. Interestingly, when their superiors suddenly told them to stop the killing, they stopped immediately and report that they never practiced violence again. The responses of these perpetrators seem to confirm Hannah Arendt's observations about "the banality of evil," as confirmed by psychological and sociological studies about what makes ordinary people commit genocide. For those interested in learning more about this topic, we recommend Becoming Evil by James Waller (Oxford, 2nd ed. 2007)

Rob Lemkin has worked for many years as a journalist and producer of documentary film, with a special focus on Asia. He met Sambath during an investigatory visit to Cambodia and was struck with the significance of Sambath's work. The partnership resulted in the production of Enemies of the People, with Lemkin and Sambath as co-directors. Lemkin did most of the film work in the documentary, which focuses on Sambath as its protagonist. During Lemkin's time in Minneapolis he met with local educators, students, human rights advocates and community members to discuss his experience building the documentary. At a discussion before the film Lemkin was joined by award-winning author, Patricia Hampl, where the two shared their insights about documenting human rights violations through film and writing. Lemkin discussed the Khmer Rouge's success in gaining power in Cambodia and his personal motivations for producing this beautifully tragic film.

The sold out premiere of Enemies of the People was at the St. Anthony Main Theater. Throughout the film, audience members, including many first and second generation Cambodian survivors of the Killing Fields watched at the edge of their seats, as they heard directly from Nuon Chea and other Khmer Rouge killers how and why 1.7 million Cambodians were "smashed." Following the film, audience members stayed to hear and engage in a panel discussion with Lemkin, HRP Director Barbara Frey, and Cambodian-American and University of Minnesota graduate Vuth Chhunn.
Lemkin and Sambath have received widespread recognition and awards for their film including the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2010. They are now in competition with 14 other documentaries to be considered for an Oscar nomination in January.

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This page contains a single entry by radtk078 published on December 7, 2010 10:35 AM.

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