“As an analytical narrative of tragedy, testimony and a way ahead, it has an undeniable power.” - Los Angeles Times
Expressed through firsthand accounts, this survey of modern Cambodia and its history focuses on the genocide under the Khmer Rouge, its historical antecedents, and its ongoing ramifications.
The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, with an estimated death toll of 20-25% of the population, ranks among the worst atrocities in history. Up to 90% of the country's educated population was exterminated. Survivors of the genocide have suffered from a phenomenon of pain and guilt referred to as "broken courage", a form of post-traumatic stress, which includes a inability to plan or sacrifice for the future.
The ascendance of Pol Pot and the Communist Khmer Rouge in 1975 marked the end of a seven year civil war. This period of extreme destabilization was in large part driven by the expansion of the Vietnam War. The United States carpet bombed areas in eastern Cambodia surrounding the Ho Chi Minh Trail from 1965-1973, a campaign escalated under the leadership of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and waged in secret until it was exposed. The 1970 coup d'état, allegedly supported by the US, that removed left-leaning Prince Sihanouk from power in favor of anti-communist Lon Nol, effectively ended Cambodia's formal policy of neutrality. The popular Sihanouk, who had presided over a golden age since securing Cambodian independence from France in 1953, formed an opposition movement while in exile in China and North Korea and eventually sided with the Khmer Rouge, lending them critical legitimacy within the country and an imprimatur to take power.
Angkor Awakens features interviews with survivors, scholars, and prominent figures, including: the Prime Minster of Cambodia, Hun Sen; Opposition Leader, Sam Rainsy; and former US Ambassador to Cambodia (1974-1975), John Gunther Dean, who was well aware a bloodbath was imminent after US withdrawal. However, the film concludes with a cautiously optimistic tone. The recent protest movement over land rights, and the emergence of a younger generation less burdened by the past, has been piercing the veil of fear and creating a groundswell toward democratic reform.
84 Minutes | English and Khmer with English subtitles.