S21: The Khmer Rouge
Killing Machine (Documentary)
Sound: C+ Extras: B- Documentary: B+
One of the most stunning documentaries that quietly tells
its nightmare story of being inside the living hell of genocide-in-progress is
the amazing S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003), which visits
the title location. In this case, it is
the heart of all torture and extermination in Cambodia when the horrific Khmer
Rouge left a scar on humanity forever by unnecessarily killing at least two
million of the native population. That
figure, which represented 25% of the country’s entire population, actually
glosses over the extreme terrorism and torture that occurred!
Victims and those who were soldiers following orders to
survive (though many of the perpetrators obviously took pleasure and joy in
what they did as in all such police states) are interviewed on location, which
is not easy for the victims who were brave enough to be taped for this
program. The pain alone is very
difficult to watch, but revisiting the systematics that humiliated and slowly
destroyed the lives of these peaceful, innocent people in a once-neutral
country is awful. We have seen even
more vivid shots of S21 briefly in Ron Fricke’s 1992 masterwork Baraka,
reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Worst still, the result of the extremist takeover was
connected too closely to The United States erroneous involvement in Vietnam in
the 1970s. The Khmer Rouge came into
power April 17, 1975, as The U.S. had to throw in the towel over a conflict
they should have never taken on.
Whether this was therapeutic for all involved, but it certainly will be
for some of them and many of the viewers who have been through even remotely
terrible life-threatening experiences.
It may be painful and shocking to watch and listen to, even if you think
you are tough and have heard it all, but it is a very necessary document of the
truth and profoundly so at that. Those
who though Schindler’s List was unforgettable has to see this, because
it shows how little has changed in the world, just like the more recent Hotel
Rwanda sadly reminded us. This
program too asks tough questions.
The 1.33 X 1 analog video images are priceless and
hopefully will not be dismissed when digital HD takes it permanent hold. Baraka is in 65mm, if any
“revisionists” should dare call this fiction, but an etching in solid gold and
blood would not be enough for such “persons” out to essentially repeat the
crimes in the film. The Dolby Digital
2.0 Stereo is just fine for an interview-based program and is in the Khmer
language with English subtitles. Extras
include director (and survivor) Rithy Pan in a special featurette for TV on the
release at about 8 minutes in length, text bio/filmography on Pan,
brief-but-excellent Film In Context text section, text film notes, Human Rights
Watch selected-DVDs from First Run, four actual First Run trailers and Cambodia:
A Chronology, 1953 – 2001.
First Run and Human Rights Watch have taken the initiative
to release this program theatrically and on video. First Run’s reputation for always putting such vital material out
is well known industry-wide, something other companies do not frankly do
enough. As for Human Rights Watch, with
as bad as things have become in recent years, they could not be timelier and
their endorsement speaks volumes.
Please support this kind of key programming and buy a copy through
Amazon.com as soon as you can. This
will remain one of the most important works this site will ever cover and one
that should be seen by everyone.
You can show your support for Human Rights Watch by
visiting their website at:
or calling them at 1-(212)-290-4700. Feel free to write us at the site about the
program if you have any other questions.
- Nicholas Sheffo