The Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies will organise a seminar with Stéphanie Benzaquen-Gautier entitled 'Performances of Memory in Post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia: Images, Archives, and Bodies in Transition' on 9 April. This seminar explores the ways in which Cambodians, survivors and younger generations alike, engage with the traumatic legacy of the Khmer Rouge terror (1975-1979).
More specifically, we will address to what extent images, either archival ones or recently produced, contribute to the memorialization of the Khmer Rouge period. We will examine the formation of cultural memory in Cambodia from the late 1990s onward, and more specifically within the context of transitional justice further to the establishment of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in the early 2000s.
Cinematographic depictions of the Khmer Rouge
The seminar takes Angelina Jolie’s movie First They Killed my Father (2016) as its starting point. This cinematographic adaptation of the memoir of survivor and human rights activist Loung Ung is the first ‘big’ international production on the subject of the Cambodian genocide since the well-known The Killing Fields by Roland Joffé (1984). As such, Jolie’s film may be seen as a ‘new generation’ movie, and indeed it departs from earlier depictions of the Khmer Rouge period in many ways (story, photography, cast, distribution system).
Body-memory and archive-based documentary approach
At the same time, it remains deeply anchored within the body-memory and archive-based documentary approach pioneered twenty years ago by Cambodian film director Rithy Panh (the latter was associated to the production of First They Killed my Father). This particular combination makes Jolie’s movie an excellent point of departure for a broader discussion about the images, narratives, and performances that have been mediating Khmer Rouge atrocities into public consciousness in the past two decades.
Local and global perspectives
Moreover, First They Killed my Father will also provide the basis for a reflection on local and global perspectives vis-à-vis the visual representation of the Cambodian genocide, and the tensions arising from transnational dynamics of memorialization in the arenas of justice, therapy, education, and cultural development. Finally, the analysis of the movie will help highlight the importance of articulating visual culture and cultural memory for a better understanding of issues of heritage, reconstruction, and emancipation in post-genocide Cambodia.