Angelina Jolie's 'First They Killed My Father' had therapists on set for cast & crew https://t.co/7JRopY7FWX pic.twitter.com/X3LeBJt3SP— The Frame (@theframe) September 20, 2017
The Frame's John Horn with Angelina Jolie and Rithy Panh.
Jolie says that filming in Cambodia with a local cast and crew was non-negotiable, but that meant being conscious of the subject matter's emotional weight
Many people had not yet discussed, and would be discussing for the first time and reliving. And having someone in a Khmer Rouge uniform yell at them again - what would that do? So we talked a lot. Rithy would talk a lot - go to the villages, talk to the village chiefs, walk everybody through. Everybody had a choice of whether they wanted to do this or not, and how they would do it and be prepared. We also had therapists on set and we also had spirit houses. It was very important to pray..."First They Killed My Father," which is both in theaters and available to stream on Netflix, was just named Cambodia's foreign-language submission to the Academy Awards. The Frame's John Horn met with Jolie and Panh to discuss the making of the film, and the importance of it being a truly Cambodian production.
How Jolie discovered Loung Ung's story while on location in Cambodia:
Jolie: It was my first trip there. ["Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was] the first big Western film to come in after the war and I read about the country. I realized how little I was taught in school, how little I had been educated. I felt very ignorant. I wanted to learn more. I expected to find a very bitter, dark people and country. I found a resilient, very positive, strong people. And I really wanted to understand. So, I went for a walk and I ended up on a corner and going through books, and thinking "I need to educate myself." The description of the story "Through a Child's Eyes" got my attention, so I bought a little two dollar copy on the corner and sat by myself and read the book.
On making art after the Khmer Rouge regime:
Panh: It's difficult at the beginning because most of our artists are dead. So we have nothing. After the Khmer Rouge, we had five masters of dance survive, one or two film directors - you come back and everyone's disappeared. So we need to rebuild it because genocide is not only killing people, but also destroying our identity, your freedom of thinking, your capacity of imagination. You keep the trauma with you, and it's very difficult to come out of genocide talking about genocide.
On the importance of working with Cambodian artists:
Jolie: I would never have made the film if it wasn't in Cambodia, if Rithy hadn't agreed to do it, if it wasn't with Cambodian actors, if it wasn't in [Khmer] - that was the whole reason to make this film. To give this country a chance to speak. And if they weren't ready, then we wouldn't have made the film.
Panh on working with Jolie as a director:
Panh: It's very important to be with the people [to make this kind of film]. If they go to the rice field, you must go to the rice field. There's no reason for you to stay in a safe place and put people in the rice field. It changes the communication with people, the relationship. I was very touched when I saw Angie go in the line for lunch. I produced many films before, and directors want their private temple, their private place. But Angie just goes with us.
Why Jolie's sons worked on the film:
Jolie: It was very much about family and I think for all of us, we had our family or close friends there. And Maddox is Cambodian. For all my children, this is their family member, [who] is Cambodian. So it was important for all of my children to be on set, to be a part of the project. Yes, I like it when my children have a good work ethic and I like to see them work, but really in truth, I wanted Mad to take this time and understand his country and understand his countrymen, and learn about his history and dedicate himself to really understanding it. And I also wanted him to work alongside his countrymen. We've been working there for 14 years. We have a home there, Mad goes there often. But this was going to be months and very immersed in being side by side, and I think it brought out a deeper understanding and pride that is beautiful to see.
[Editors Note: This article is presented in partnership with Netflix’s original film “First They Killed My Father” – now streaming on Netflix and in select theaters.]The producer of Angelina Jolie's @netflix movie is Cambodia's greatest filmmaker. Here's what you need to know: https://t.co/63Je17IVCC pic.twitter.com/hdwfZISA8P— IndieWire (@IndieWire) September 20, 2017
“First They Killed My Father” producer Rithy Panh is arguably the most influential Cambodian director in history. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge who escaped to Thailand in 1979, Panh found his footing as a filmmaker while living in Paris before returning to his native country 10 years later. Over the past 27 years, his work has largely taken a biographical focus, as he confronts the trauma of his family’s struggles from a number of cinematic perspectives. Viewed in full, his filmography tells the modern story of the Cambodian people, from their struggles to survive against an oppressive regime to the reverberations of those experiences in modern times.
Panh has always taken a personal approach to his filmmaking. His first widely acclaimed project, 1994’s “Rice of People,” blends professional and amateur performers in the spare tale of an impoverished family attempting to make ends meet in a world still reeling from the horrors of the past. The film’s naturalistic style echoes the traditions of Italian Neorealism, and just as that era reflected recent wartime events, Panh’s film shows a keen ability to thread Cambodian history into an intimate story. Soon he could become the great chronicler of his country’s history.
With 2000’s “The Land of the Wandering Souls,” Panh explored the plight of Cambodian workers whose ditch-digging leads them to encounter bodies and land mines that speak to the continuing reminders of their genocidal past. In “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,” Panh explored the history of the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious prison with a blend of memories from former prisoners and some of the men who tortured them. In “Such, Master of the Forges of Hell,” he profiled a Khmer Rouge war criminal.
It was only a matter of time before Panh would turn the camera on his own journey. The Oscar-nominated 2013 documentary “The Missing Picture” is one of Panh’s most ambitious achievements, a semi-animated essay film about the plight of his family as they sought to escape the Khmer Rouge (and was not entirely successful in doing so). The film, which premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, uses stop-motion clay figures to represent Panh’s memories of his family’s struggles, echoing the degree to which he has internalized these memories from a child’s perspective. The filmmaker combines these elements with archival footage from the Pol Pot years, creating a fascinating blend of dreamlike rumination and historical specificity.
“The Missing Picture” also provides a key foundation for watching “First They Killed My Father.” Panh’s memories are tied to his youth, and his deeper understanding of the massacre only came later; as a result, the film is an essential precedent for “First They Killed My Father” in that it explores the paradox of experiencing an adventurous survival epic even though the reality of the events was much bleaker. The title refers to a photograph taken by the Khmer Rouge that would bring a historical finality to many of the stories of the regime’s atrocities. Because Panh can’t find the picture, he makes a movie to fill in the gaps. “First They Killed My Father” is an extension of that goal, resurrecting the painful history of a generation and giving voice to the valiant efforts of those who survived dire circumstances to keep their country intact.
Both “The Missing Picture” and “First They Killed My Father” take place between 1975 and 1979. Both are crucial to the contemporary development of Cambodian cinema. Panh’s film brought an international audience to his story and made it more accessible than ever before. Jolie’s work goes one step further. Not since “The Killing Fields” has a major filmmaker tackled these events, and that movie — while Oscar-nominated and still widely acclaimed — had no organic connection to the country it portrayed. “First They Killed My Father,” on the other hand, was filmed in the country with a predominantly Cambodian cast and crew (including director Angelina Jolie, who adopted a child from the country, was offered citizenship by the government and accepted). It provides a fully immersive look at the slow development of the Khmer Rouge takeover without stepping back to overexploit the events.
There’s a fundamental authenticity to the way the movie takes its cues from the child’s viewpoint, as if no amount of complex historical explanation can convey the same degree of understanding provided by simply witnessing the atrocities. “First They Killed My Father” is an extension of Panh’s 30-year-effort to ensure that Cambodia’s national identity remains appropriately preserved for audiences around the world.
I took a moment to watch First They Killed My Father this weekend and it's by far Angelina Jolie's best work as a director. In her interview for the NYT for which I photographed her for, she said something that will stick with me for a long time "I never expect to be the one that everybody understands or likes, and that's ok because I know who I am". #angelinajolie