For a while now I've been eagerly awaiting the release of a film by director Steve McClure called Rain Falls from Earth. It will feature personal interviews with Cambodian holocaust survivors such as artist Vann Nath, ballet dancer Em Theay and Teeda Butt-Mam, all of whom I've featured individually in my blog, and the film will be narrated by Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated actor, Sam Waterston, who starred in The Killing Fields movie in the mid-80s. In addition, Hanuman Films provided their expertise in producing the scenes filmed in Cambodia. So I was extra pleased to see the SE Globe magazine, an excellent glossy magazine published in Cambodia, carrying a review of the film in their November edition. Here it is:
A new documentary uncovers the surreal facts of existence under Cambodia’s most infamous regime, by Paul Brisby.
While visitors to Cambodia can hardly avoid being confronted with some aspect of the blood-soaked history of the Khmer Rouge regime, international attention on one of modern history’s deepest stains has been decidedly ephemeral. One best-selling film, a handful of documentaries, and a number of books (mostly sold in Cambodia) are the only mementoes of a holocaust that in terms of intensity – a third of the population destroyed in four short years – eclipses the more celebrated atrocities of Vietnam, the purges of Stalin, or the mistakes of Mao. Even the global media spotlight that accompanied the start of the Khmer Rouge Trial (KRT) has faded rapidly as the proceedings sink into a quagmire of legal bickering. In fact, with the mere settling of procedural rules taking longer than the complete judicial process of Nuremberg, the trial threatens to be remembered, internationally at least, for all the wrong reasons.
When young Florida filmmaker Steve McClure first read a magazine article on the Khmer Rouge regime ten years ago, he was taken by surprise: “I was shocked that I was never taught about this in school. I couldn’t believe that an event so disastrous seemed almost forgotten.” This proved to be the start of a seven-year long journey to the very heart of what the regime really meant to the people who were its victims. “I started by finding one person to talk to. Then I would find another contact or someone would refer me to another witness, so it just grew from there,” says McClure.
The result is his powerful new documentary, ‘Rain Falls from Earth’. The title of the film, culled from a survivor’s story, illustrates the chilling subversion of realities that followed the commencement of Year Zero: “When the Khmer Rouge told you that the rain falls from the Earth, not from the sky, you agreed, or you’d be killed for being an intellectual.” The film focuses on the harrowing personal accounts of what a few individuals underwent during the period - people who were basically eyewitnesses to genocide. As one survivor, Monirith, puts it:
“I thought if I’m going to die at least I’ll die in the same grave as my family. That was my only wish.” The film is narrated by ‘Killing Fields’ actor and engaged humanitarian, Sam Waterston. “I think this project appealed to him on a personal level. Sam was the perfect choice,” says McClure. The stories are backed by footage and stills from the era, and a brooding musical score by Chris Piorkowski.
In the film, survivors reveal their thoughts, ideas and emotions – the very things they were told to abandon in the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’. As another survivor Cham says, “We couldn’t cry. We just go to sleep and cry in our sleep.” Contrary to his expectations, McClure had little problem in getting people to talk about their experiences: “I was surprised how willing people were to share their stories with me. It seemed that everyone I talked to wanted to participate.”
He became aware that by allowing his subjects to share their experiences for the first time in a long time, he found himself at the cutting edge of their personal healing process: “The interviews were a lot harder than I had anticipated. As you would expect they were very emotional. At times I wasn’t sure whether to stop asking questions or just keep the camera rolling.”
The film follows the survivors right through to the little-documented end of the regime, and the benumbed relief that brought: “Someone started hitting a drum and we all started singing. All of us looked like ghosts, but the spirit was high.” McClure also includes interviews with three top-level KR members, including Ta Mok’s daughter. “Everything about that interview process was surreal,” says McClure, “including our stay in Anlong Veng. It will be up to the viewer to decide if what they are telling is actually the truth.” Not a dissimilar choice to the one that (hopefully) awaits the KRT judges in the not-too-distant future. As McClure says, “That seemed to be the one thing everyone I talked to hoped for - closure.”
Links: Film website, SE Globe Magazine.