The Shadow and Legacy of The Killing Fields

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Over 30 years ago, Hollywood released a movie about photojournalist Dith Pran, whose heroic actions helped an American reporter escape Cambodia before the country fell into chaos and destruction. 

The actor chosen to play Mr. Pran in “The Killing Fields” now has his own story of survival, loss and love on the big screen in a film by Arthur Dong called “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.” 

In a premiere screening by the American embassy and Bophana Center on Friday, the audience was moved to see the romantic and painful life of the man whose face will be forever known for introducing the horrors of Cambodia’s dark history to Hollywood. 

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“I was one of the victims and one of the survivors,” audience member Sophoan Livan said. With his face worn with age and his eyes saddened by the destruction of his childhood, Mr. Livan said he was only 12 years old when he was tortured by the Khmer Rouge. 

“The film reminded me how I suffered a lifetime of pain,” Mr. Livan said. The black and white animated scenes based on Dr. Ngor’s autobiography triggered his memories. 

“I was persecuted once by being buried in the ground up to my shoulders, questioned simply because a cow I took care of went to eat villagers’ rice.” 

Dr. Ngor’s recollection of the lack of food and struggle to survive in the film triggered Mr. Livan’s own memories of how he almost died of hunger. Many like himself who admired the doctor for his acting in “The Killing Fields,” were shocked to hear about the end of Dr. Ngor’s life. He was violently killed in an alleged mugging by gang members.

The Death Conspiracy

Dr. Ngor was murdered in Los Angeles – 12 years after the movie made him famous. His murder, deemed solved, was blamed on three men who tried to steal his gold necklace, which held a lacquer portrait of his late wife. The gold necklace, which represented Dr. Ngor’s love and pain, is where filmmaker Arthur Dong started his story.

In 2010, Mr. Dong came across an article about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal that included quotes from the testimony of “Duch” Kaing Guek Eav, the man behind the tortures at S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng Interrogation Center. The infamous killer claimed that Pol Pot assassinated Dr. Ngor because he appeared in “The Killing Fields.” 

Fascinated by the story, Mr. Dong read Dr. Ngor’s autobiography and worked to bring it to the screen. The film focuses on Dr. Ngor’s love for his wife Huoy, who died in a Khmer Rouge labor camp while giving birth to their child. It continues into the later part of his life when he worked for those who survived. 

Locating rare footage shot by the Khmer Rouge that was saved and restored by the Bophana Audio Visual Center as well as acquiring some of Dr. Ngor’s own belongings from of his life in America, Mr. Dong worked with a team of animators to bring the written words of the doctor to life.

Mr. Dong has 30 years of experience creating documentaries that focus on a person’s life to examine moments of history, social prejudice, and public policy concerns. The film is winding its way through the Kingdom. 

Mr. Livan will be taking his children to the next screening later this week. “They’ll be horrified, but hopefully they will learn from the past and history and can help prevent the rebirth of such a regime,” he said.  

The tour will make its way out of Phnom Penh with private screenings in Battambang at 6:30 on August 25, Siem Reap at 6:30 pm on August 26, and will return to the city on August 28 for a 3 pm screening at Major Cineplex. The screenings are free, but reservations are required. 

Contact [email protected] or call 077 811 668 for more information.

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