Films about Cambodia & the Cambodian Diaspora

documentary       2003         Cambodia / France

documentary    2003   Cambodia / France          (available on DVD,  check
In my opinion, an important historical document, which looks closely in retrospect at survivors (both victims and perpetrators) of a notorious Khmer Rouge torture prison in Phnom Penh. This prison was housed in what had previously been a public school campus called ‘S-21’.  This campus has since been turned into a memorial museum for victims of the genocide carried out there.

documentary   2000    France
About the labourers who dug the ditches for the first fibre optic cable to connect Phnom Penh with the rest of the world.  Initially funded by the phone company which owned the cable.  They backed out when they saw how close the film got to the dire lives of the folks digging the very long hole.

THE RICE PEOPLE  ( in Khmer: NEAK SRE ) – directed by RITHY PANH *   
drama     1994      Cambodia / France
Nominated for Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival in 1994

* Rithy Panh, (who appears in ‘Nice Hat!’) is the most prolific Cambodian filmmaker of the last decade – and the numerous international awards his works have received speak to his incredible talent.  He is willing to take on impossibly difficult subject matter  ( witness ‘S-21’).  Further, there are parts of his films which are not easy to watch, but there is brilliance in his work.  He has made many more films than the ones listed here, though unfortunately, his works are tough to find in English translation.


AKA DON BONUS – directed by  Sokly Ny & Spencer Nakasako **
documentary   1995   USA   
(broadcast on POV/PBS – disks available through )

A video diary about the struggle to survive of 18 year old Sokly Ny, son of a Cambodian refugee family, living in a Bay Area housing project, with a brother in prison and no living father.

REFUGEE – directed by Spencer Nakasako **
documentary    2003   Cambodia  
(broadcast Independent Lens/PBS -- disks avail. )

About 3 young Cambodian immigrants from the tough streets of the Tenderloin returning to Cambodia to find parts of their families who never left Cambodia.

** Bay Area Filmmaker Spencer Nakasako has spent years working with urban youth of various S.E. Asian backgrounds at the Vietnamese Youth Development Center in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Among the various films produced through the center under Spencer’s direction are these two films about young Cambodian-Americans.  Spencer directs and produces, but the kids he works with are intimately involved in the filmmaking process, both as subjects and filmmakers.  After collaborating with Nakasako on Refugee, Mike Siv (one of the players in ‘Refugee’) is currently working on a documentary about praCh ****, the rap artist whose work is featured in ‘Nice Hat!’


THE FLUTE PLAYER – directed by Jocelyn Glatzer
documentary   2002  USA    
(broadcast on POV/PBS.   disks available through )

About Cambodian traditional flute player, Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived the Khmer Rouge (in part through his musical skills) and is currently a devoted human rights activist who also works to preserve traditional Cambodian music. 


After doing some of the first news reporting for the British public on the re-opening of Cambodia in 1979, John Pilger returned twice to Cambodia to make two films describing the progress, or lack thereof, in Cambodia a decade after the reopening.  These works are not brilliant filmmaking, but are incredibly passionate and overwhelming  – and more importantly,  effective – works of social advocacy.  They starkly show the inhumane conditions in Cambodia for the decade AFTER Pol Pot lost power.  Pilger’s contention was that these horrific conditions were largely caused by the political posture taken toward Cambodia during the 1980’s by the ‘first world’. The films apparently caused such an uproar among the UK viewer-ship that the British government was forced alter its starvation-causing policy of non-recognition of the Vietnamese influenced government running Cambodia in the Post Pol Pot years.  This is a rare example of a documentary film to have enormous and concrete positive political consequences. ***

CAMBODIA-YEAR 10 – directed by David Munro produced / narrated by John Pilger ***
tv news documentary   1989   UK
This one recounts the brutal mistreatment of Cambodia post Khmer Rouge - during the years of Vietnamese control because of US / UK & Chinese hatred of Vietnam. Details the way the international community shut Cambodia out, the way the only support came from the USSR, the way the Vietnamese aid was smeared and the way the international community tried to tar Vietnamese as being just as brutal as the KR ( not true)   This was made as an activist film, and appears to have had huge impact -- thus making it potentially one of the most significant films ever made

CAMBODIA–THE BETRAYAL – dir. by David Munro, produced /narrated by John Pilger ***
tv news documentary    1990   UK
Follow on film to Cambodia Year 10 -- full of the same passion, and if possible, even more outrage.   Most valuable in this instance for following the arms trail around the world, eventually leading to the big Western countries as being not only the arms suppliers to the KR -- but specifically supplying them with landmines.   A nightmare scenario laid bare -- one of the few films I have ever seen that actually gets to what is going on.


SAMSARA – directed by Ellen Bruno, cinematography by Ellen Kuras
experimental documentary    1989      USA        
(Distrib info per old video: SAMSARA: FILM LIBRARY 22-D Hollywood Ave. 
Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey 07423    800-343-5540)

An intense, poetic,  and lyrical study of the devastated Cambodia of 1989 very passionately made by an aid worker turned filmmaker.   According to the filmmaker, ‘Samsara’ refers to the  perpetual process death and rebirth


For the ultimate in unusual integration of modern and traditional, check out the website of the former King, now Prince again, Norodom Sihanouk, is his official website, and includes a filmography ( in French)  of all the films he has made, including downloadable clips!