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Enemies of the People (DVD Review)

26 Feb, 2012 By: Angelique Flores

Street 2/28/12
Old Street Films
Box Office $0.07 million
$29.99 two-DVD set
Not rated.

During Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia in the late 1970s, the regime known as the Khmer Rouge killed millions.

This historical documentary features something most docs about a specific genocide don’t: the grisly accounts from the killers themselves and the viewpoint from the perpetrators’ leaders.

Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath tracks down Pol Pot’s second in command, Nuon Chea, as well as the henchmen behind the notorious killing fields. He befriends these men — an act not to be taken lightly, as he lost his parents and brother to the Khmer Rouge. Sambath’s reason in getting them to talk isn’t to write a news article or make a feature film, but rather to historically document “the truth” according to the Khmer Rouge. After spending seven years with them, he finally gets them to trust him and open up. Realizing that people may not believe the information he has obtained, he starts filming his interviews as proof.

Then, along comes British journalist and filmmaker Rob Lemkin, who teams up with Sambath for his own film. He ends up collaborating with Sambath as co-director, using the Cambodian journalist’s footage and making Sambath a central part of the film.

Sambath doesn’t seek revenge or a desire to bring these men to justice. Instead, Sambath seeks forgiveness and an end to the silence of what happened. If anything, he feels sad by the U.N.’s arrest of Nuon Chea — a man who thinks Saddam Hussein is a “winner” — because he has become so close to him throughout the years.

One could argue that the lower-level men ordered to kill are just as much victims as those who lost loved ones during Pol Pot’s regime. Hearing the bad guys’ side of the story makes it frighteningly tangible how Pol Pot was able to carry out this genocide.

Don’t expect a chronological history of what happened here. Instead, the film offers a fascinating study of humanity, how one man could have so many killed and how regular people are turned into killers.

The hours of gripping bonus materials breathe further life into this film. The extras include Q&As with the filmmakers, deleted interviews and scenes and commentaries with both directors. The most powerful featurette is a meeting between the killers in Asia and victims in Long Beach, Calif., via satellite.

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