Angkor Awakens

A nation split between past and future

Angkor Awakens Cambodia is a nation split between the past and the future; tending to the savage wounds wrought upon its people by the Khmer Rouge, whilst preparing for a bright future through a young and determined new generation. This deep and incisive portrait of a vibrant and bustling country moves through verdant hills, ancient stone steps and swarming metropolises to reveal a past full of violence and pain, but also a future of hope and expectation.

Nayan Chanda makes his way through liberated Phnom Pehn in 1979. The streets and houses are deserted, with tables still set for meals abandoned four years earlier. Suddenly he hears a loud noise from an upstairs bathroom: "the tap was left open in 1975, and that particular morning the Vietnamese had restored the water supply and that open tap was gurgling water." This deluge of water signals a new beginning for a country ravaged by years of brutal civil strife.

However, the wounds that the Cambodian people suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge were severe and not easily healed. Chhun Chenda Sophea describes how her father's death still haunts her today. "That was the last time I saw him. He screamed right through to the end. I still hear the screaming".

For many survivors of the tyranny of Pol Pot, the pain is too much to discuss openly​. Consequently, there is a generation of young Cambodians with limited awareness of the suffering of their mothers and fathers. "We don't know who we are - what happened to our parents". Others worry about the potential effects of this collective amnesia: "if you try to deny the past, if you don't understand how you got here, it will happen again."

The film makes clear that this painful history does not start with Pol Pot, but has its origins in the indiscriminate bombing of the country by the United States during the Vietnam war as well as the deeper legacies of French colonial rule. The legacies of this history play out day by day in the minutiae of expressions and words exchanged by the Cambodian people as they go about their daily lives. But flowing through the streets is a young generation agitating for progress, democracy, and prosperity: "The next generation cannot wait. They want [our country to] change, and we have to otherwise there will be another revolution."

Reviews and More

''a blistering account of Cambodia's painful past" - New York Times

"Angkor Awakens... has undeniable power" - LA Times

See here for an interview with director Robert Lieberman on the plight of Rohingyans.


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