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Enemies of the people

DIR: Rob Lemkin, Thet Sambath
2010 / Cambodia, United Kingdom / 81 min

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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.

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.

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.


Director Rob Lemkin, Thet Sambath
Dir. of Photography
Duration 81 min
Year 2010
Country Cambodia, United Kingdom
Colour Colour
Tags Asia, crime, ethnic groups, private, society, war

Festivals & Awards

2010 Sundance ...

Festivals & Awards

2010 Sundance Film Festival, USA Won Jury Special Prize for Best World Documentary

2010 True/False Film Festival, USA Won True Life Award

2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, USA Won Best Documentary Award

2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, USA Won Social Justice Award

2010 Vera International Film Festival, Finland Won Best Documentary Award

2010 One World Film Festival, Czech Republic Won Grand Jury Prize

2010 Full Frame Film Festival, USA Won Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Award Won Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award

2010 Hong Kong International Film Festival Won Outstanding Documentary Award

2010 Beldocs Film Festival, Serba Won Best Documentary Award

2010 OxDocs Festival, UK Won Best Documentary Award

2010 Norwegian International Documentary Festival Won Best Documentary Award

2010 New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival, USA Won Nestor Almendros Award

2010 Krakow International Film Festival, Poland Won Silver Horn Award

2010 British Indepedent Film Awards, UK Won Best Documentary Award



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