Two days in Phnom Penh

It’s amazing to think we’ve only been in Phnom Penh two days so far and have already had two incredibly full days here.

After taking the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (which I’ve now taken 5 times in the last two months), we arrived just in time to tweak the shot list for the film and meet Rich and an important ECCC contact for dinner. Check out the tuk tuk we filled with luggage (below)! Gaining access and trust from the ECCC is a gradual process but a necessary one for what is at stake in the upcoming trial.

a full tuk tuk

Monday was a full day of co-ordinating, errands, and meetings. Jon and I started the day with a meeting with Youk Chhang about stock footage, previous Khmer Rouge films, and the schedule for Tuesday’s tour of Tuol Sleng, Choeng Ek, and the ECCC. Jose joined us at the Rising Sun restaurant and we all had lunch with Christoph to discuss film style, work flow, and future scheduling. Jose and Christoph are getting along great, and we’re now into four countries for production involvement (U.S., Canada, UK, Germany)! After a 20 minute torrential downpour, Jose, Jon, and I visited the Ministry of Information to get Cambodia Media passes, the Pharmacie de la care for more malaria pills, and other fun filled errands.

Jose and I attended the screening of Werner Herzog’s film “Even Dwarfs Start Small” at the Scandinavia Hotel. It was great to see a film projected on a screen again (no non-Khmer movie theaters in Cambodia). Christoph and I introduced Jose to many Cambodian media contacts we had met previously as well as some new faces.

Tuesday was a FULL day of touring with a DC-CAM group. We met the tour buses at 7am and visited Tuol Sleng. At first we were told by security there that we couldn’t film (the camera is pretty large with the brevis and lens attached – I think it scared them) – but we were resilient, pressed forward and were able to film. Jose and I filmed several poignant interviews while Jonathan scouted Tuol Sleng for our 2nd visit (we’ll be filming more poetic shots and b-roll rather than interviews). This is what he mentioned to me:

“After walking the halls of Tuol Sleng alone, I can say that I’ve never felt more haunted in my life. Walking through torture chambers and now empty rooms with the realization of what occurred there grabbed me in terrifying ways. It was disconcerting to imagine the evil that once existed within these chambers. But once you get past these initial fears, there’s an odd beauty to Tuol Sleng. Even amidst the evil history and tortured souls, grass begins to grow between the cracks, and birds have built nests in once darkened places. Tuol Sleng reminds me of the evil humans can inflict on each other and instills a fear in me for humanity’s future that I have never felt so intensely. One area that did give me hope was relatively hidden. I accidentally turned into what was a dead end under a staircase. It was dark, and the only light available came from a ray of sunlight that exposed a portion of the wall covered with hand-written messages of hope from world travelers. In more languages than I can remember, there were things written that asked for respect of the past and desired that evil of this kind never happen again. As I read the messages, I could not help but feel connected with the people who wrote them. They asked and wished for things that Tuol Sleng brews in its visitors. I must say the fears and hopes were with me. In fact, the chambers make you lose that fear of your imminent end; and instead, make you fear the ability of others to end everything and take everything away from you – the potential for evil to demolish our world in horrific ways and to hurt, not necessarily us, but the ones we love and the places we often take for granted.”

After Tuol Sleng we visited Choeng Ek (the killing fields) and the ECCC to scout the locations for future filming. We were granted a very limited amount of time at these two other locations and were, therefore, only able to do one interview and grab some quick b-roll at the ECCC. We look forward to spending more time at both these places and sharing what we experience with you soon.

interview at choeng ekinterview at choeng ek2the courtroomeccc building

-John

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One response to “Two days in Phnom Penh

  1. I am following closely your journal entries. Everything about your project is touching. I look forward seeing you all and hear first-hand your thoughts and reflections on your trip and the documentary you are working on.
    All the best,
    Special hugs to Jonathan
    Pierre

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