Leaders around the world still are sorting out the aftermath of the vast crimes against humanity that swept through Cambodia in the 1970s. As recently as spring 2012, U.S. and Cambodian officials made front-page news by trying to reconcile the theft of a priceless Cambodian statue that apparently was stolen in the mid-1970s and wound up in a Sotheby's auction.
Even more important than sorting out reparations from cultural crimes in that era, the first of the Khmer Rouge war criminals was not convicted until 2010 and human-rights investigations continue in Cambodia to this day. Many investigators and journalists--like those you will meet in the historic video record in `Enemies of the People'--are still working to pierce the veil of secrecy about what happened during the bloody reign of Khmer Rouge terror. In that era, countless Cambodians who are alive today were brutally tortured--and 2 million Cambodians were murdered. (Some estimates place the death toll lower or higher.)
The fact that few perpetrators have been brought to justice is shocking. But, why should you care? Well, as a journalist myself, I've got a longtime commitment to spreading information that aids in global peacemaking. The release of collected video from the extensive `Enemies' filmmaking project, within this new DVD set, is exactly the kind of peacemaking effort we all can encourage.
When a version of the documentary aired in 2011 on PBS, I had a chance to interview the brave Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath. For years, he risked his life to find and interview Khmer Rouge killers. His body of work paved the way for the creation of this full-scale documentary film along with Rob Lemkin. Sambath has been a leading investigative journalist for a Cambodian English-language newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post. In 2011, he won the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award. The Sambath-Lemkin documentary, now, has racked up a whole shelf of additional awards and honors. Now, Sambath and Lemkin are working on a second film, as well. Your purchasing and spreading the news about their first project will help them in their ongoing efforts.
What are their motives? In our 2011 interview, Thet Sambath clearly explained why this film differs from many other movies about crimes against humanity. Truth be told, many movies focus more on the horrors, gore and suspense of such crimes throughout world history. The focus in `Enemies of the People' is squarely on reconciliation and peacemaking.
In 2011, Thet told me: "We would like there to be people-to-people reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. There are thousands of Khmer Rouge perpetrators in Cambodia and abroad including the U.S. We want it to be possible they can all come forward and confess." I asked, "Why is that so important?" He added, "So the new generation can understand what happened and why. We must never repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to move forward to a brighter future."
Finally, let me urge you: If you're intrigued by this film, buy it now. One of the unfortunate truths about today's media market is the fact that the delivery of movies to American viewers is changing dramatically right now. That means DVD sales in the U.S. are declining and many important DVD titles come and go--and potentially may vanish from the market without warning. I hope that Lemkin's and Sambath's supplement-stuffed DVD edition will continue to be on sale indefinitely. But my word of warning is: Get it now. This particular edition of the film includes lots of supplemental material that will help orient you to the Khmer Rouge era--and also to the aftermath for survivors of this massive crime against humanity. There's even a booklet in this current edition that is quite helpful to those who want to understand this tragic era--and the potential road ahead that we all may encourage in seeking peace.