Forgotten voices and stories from the Khmer Rouge period are preserved in a mammoth exhibition available for viewing at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre from March 4 to 17.
But these aren’t tales told by survivors of the brutal regime – these are the voices of low-ranking soldiers who joined the Khmer Rouge. Even now, their stories are anonymous.
The people featured in 43 hours of film, captured by Danish film directors Thomas Weber Carlsen and Jan Krogsgaard, asked that their names not be used, although the camera captures all their emotions in full screen.
Voices of the Khmer Rouge has been divided into 30 episodes, said Sar Kosal, Bophana’s cultural event manager.
Each episode features an interview with a former Khmer Rouge soldier, filmed between 2002 and 2010.
Visitors can dip into episodes stored on the centre’s 30 computer terminals during opening hours on weekdays.
In episode 21, a woman explains what drove her to join the Khmer Rouge in Kampong Speu province.
“Soldiers from General Lon Nol’s government put a price on my father’s head, offering 2,500 riel to anyone who could arrest him because he offered food to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who were plotting to overthrow the government.”
She said that prompted her to join the resistance movement, first joining the Children’s Association by growing crops to feed the troops.
After the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, the woman tells of being assigned to a textile factory in Battambang, where she was made head of workers.
When Vietnamese troops intervened in 1978 and drove many Khmer Rouge supporters to Cambodia’s western borders, she followed them and was assigned to help transport food from Thailand to the remaining resistance troops.
Food transportation was not an easy job because they had to cross battlefields, she recalls in the film.
“We saw that our country was under invasion. We were not afraid to sacrifice our fresh flesh, fresh blood,” she said.
“We would rather lose our lives than our nation. We would rather lose our lives than our Khmer name. We died, but our heroism remained to encourage our children of the future,” said the woman who is now a farmer.
She said the regime’s principles remained heroic, even though she was aware of robbers, rapists and killers.
But she blamed individuals, not the entire regime. “You can go around and check it out by asking people here. They did not blame the Khmer Rouge. Only a small number of individuals blamed Pol Pot.”
Filmmakers Carlsen and Krogsgaard said they aimed to raise questions of how people looked at themselves as part of the Khmer Rouge organisation, and how they coped with executions, forced labour and starvation as a result of its policies.
Each episode lasts between 25 minutes and two hours. Viewers can choose which they want to watch, all of the episodes have English subtitles.