Saturday, September 23, 2017

I saw Angelina Jolie present her movie, FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER, two nights ago. It is a straight-up great movie that deserves to be seen in the theater (although it premiered on Netflix.) It starts out a little clunky with a montage about Cambodia during the Vietnam war set to "Sympathy for the Devil" (eye roll), but as soon as it gets into the story of Loung Ung, whose memoir about her family's struggles under the Khmer Rouge is the source material for this movie, it becomes a beautiful and moving thing to behold. The actors are mostly first-timers, and the key characters are children, so there's an unvarnished vitality and immediacy to the performances that I loved. It's the story of a horrible ordeal, and yet the movie is never ponderous or preachy. It just tells the story with simplicity and grace. Every now and then, Jolie betrays a Mel Gibsonesque penchant for depicting suffering in graphic, lingering detail that might work against the storytelling (because you have to back out of the experience just to get through it.) But only occasionally. There's a surprising amount of aesthetic pleasure to be had from this film, even though the experiences the characters endure are intensely sad and painful and infuriating. Part of that pleasure comes from the lively performance of the young lead actress in concert with camerawork that places us deeply into her point of view. Sometimes her hands come from either side of the camera as if we're literally looking out of her eyes, but it doesn't feel gimmicky. It makes us children along with her, and surprisingly makes it easier to understand how a child might be more resilient under harsh conditions than an adult, who understands fully what is at stake and what has been lost. The camera is frequently at child's-eye height, the way Ozu's camera was kept at the height of a kneeling adult, and it changes how we experience everything. Jolie has earned her Cambodian street cred gradually, through 14 years of work and outreach in the country. That knowledge and commitment shows in the work. It's a lively, sad, brutal, visually gorgeous, inspiring film. #firsttheykilledmyfather #angelinajolie

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Thanks Pride&Joy


DGA, Friday, Sept. 23



Oscar Announces Changes for Foreign-Film Voting: Now Simpler! (Sort Of.)

As promised, new Academy president John Bailey, a long-time and passionate voter on the foreign language committee, has pushed through some long-awaited changes in the voting rules. It’s meant to be simpler; here’s how the new system works.
By the October 2 deadline, the Academy expects some 90 foreign entries. These will be divided into multiple lists (the number is TBD; last year, there were four); committee participants (volunteers from all 17 Academy branches) are each assigned a list. They are required to watch all of the films on their assigned list at one of two screening rooms in L.A. They can see as many films on other lists as they like, and will receive full credit for each movie they screen. (Previously, a committee member had to watch a given percentage of films to qualify for voting.)
The Academy acknowledges that many questions about the actual breakdown of lists and votes remain to be determined.
Publicists and distribution and marketing executives who are affiliated with any given contender are now welcome to vote. This is a positive change, because so many of the people with the most knowledge of the foreign-film world are the ones involved in releasing and promoting these Oscar contenders. Now the likes of Fredell Pogodin and Nancy Willen, to name a few, can also vote.
Some things haven’t changed: Screenings are still in Los Angeles only. (Broadening the pool on a global basis via the internet is still far down the pike.) But in the second phase, after the shortlist of nine is chosen, there may be changes in how a wider group of committee members see the films in order to pick the final five. (On the documentary side, streaming is already happening.) I’m curious to see how that plays out.

The Hollywood star talks about home life and working with son Maddox on her latest film, Netflix's First They Killed My Father.

You’re a Hollywood star with six children aged nine to 16 – describe your TV set-up at home.
We’ve just moved into a new house where all our televisions are connected – I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. I will turn on the news and then, suddenly, Disney Channel will come on. At that point, it’s over for me. The kids take control.

Who’s in charge of the remote control in your home?
Very often it’s Vivienne [Angelina’s nine-year-old daughter with Brad Pitt]. It’s never me.

Do you ever get to watch your favourite shows?
If I want to watch something, I have to watch it on my computer when the kids are asleep. Otherwise, it’s very hard. There should be a parent box set up for me.

The kids are all in bed, what are you watching?
I like to watch the news on CNN or the BBC. I also love The Walking Dead. I’m really looking forward to the next season.

Dinner time must be hectic with six children running around?
I’m not the best cook. I am going to cooking classes and I’ve been trying to cook more at home, because the kids all hang out together when I do that. They love it, but they often take over. I’m very impatient and a little erratic – but I am getting into it now.

Do you have a speciality dish?
I don’t. My best recipe is when I accidentally put something together and it just happens to work out. I get really excited when that happens. Personally, I can’t follow a recipe. I am one of those people. I don’t like to follow the rules.

Do the children help out around the house?
The children are amazing. It’s so moving to see how much they help each other. The big brothers help the little kids, and all of them help me. They have really come into their own.

Your eldest son, Maddox, is an executive producer on the new film you’ve directed, First They Killed My Father. How did that come about?
I met Maddox in Cambodia when he was three months old and I’ve always wanted him to tell a story from his country. I told him, “Son, one day you’ll be ready. You will tell me when it’s time to go deeply into your country. But I need your help. You’ll have to work and you’ll have to be there every day with me.” And one day he said, “I’m ready.”

How involved was Maddox in the movie?
He’s 16 now and he has known Loung Ung, the woman upon whose childhood under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia the film is based, all his life. He went deep into the research and into the edit. He was great. And also, because the movie is from a child’s point of view, it was really helpful to have him there to say, “You are losing my attention in this scene.” As a film director, you have to take control.

Does that mean you’re a bossy person?
When you have six kids, you are the boss of nothing!


Thursday, September 21, 2017


A New Animation Festival Launches, With Plans To Impact the Oscar Race

The launch of the Animation Is Film Festival in October could boost indie Oscar chances with added prestige and accessibility.

Aiming to make an impact this Oscar season, the inaugural Animation Is Film Festival from GKids, the Annecy International Animation Festival, Variety, and ACIFA-Hollywood launches October 20-22 at the TCL Chinese 6 Theater.
The festival will present a selection of new animated feature films from Asia, Europe, South America, and North America, with juried and audience prizes and filmmakers attending most screenings. Additionally, the festival will feature studio events, special screenings, short film programs, and a VR lounge.
AIF seems well timed: The Academy now allows all members to vote for animated features, using preferential voting. However, it remains to be seen what the dynamic will be in terms of mainstream versus indie nominees.
GKids, which has nine Oscar nominations (including this year’s “My Life as a Zucchini”), has seven movies in contention this season; four showcase in competition at AIF. The highlight is “The Breadwinner” (October 20), a coproduction of Ireland, Canada, and Luxembourg directed by Nora Twomey of Cartoon Saloon (“The Secret of Kells”), and executive produced by Angelina Jolie. Based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, it’s the first GKids co-production and concerns a young Afghan girl who poses as a boy to protect her family.

Jon Fasman | October/November 2017

They must have made quite a pair: the statuesque film star from Los Angeles, and the small, slight returnee, cycling together through rural Cambodia. Angelina Jolie was in the country shooting “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, her first starring role in a blockbuster, though she had won an Oscar the year before for her supporting role in “Girl, Interrupted”. Loung Ung was travelling in Cambodia 20 years after she had escaped with her family; her memoir of surviving the Khmer Rouge, “First They Killed My Father”, had just been published.

They came together, says Loung Ung, because Jolie bought a pirated copy of her book on the street and wanted to meet her. An unlikely friendship formed. “We stopped somewhere,” says Loung Ung. “Not a restaurant – just a Cambodian house. We were offered some food, some chicken with ginger. We saw a scrawny chicken run by, and then we heard this crack, and that was dinner. The owner of the house saved the best parts for Angie – the gizzards and intestines. And she ate them. She knew how to be respectful.” When Jolie expressed an interest in turning her memoir into a film, Loung Ung did not hesitate, though she says she would not have readily trusted it to any other non-Cambodian. But Jolie, she says, “is Cambodian in her spirit, in her connection to the country and in her family”.

“First They Killed My Father” is the opposite of Jolie’s usual blockbusters. It is modestly budgeted, with few special effects, despite being the biggest film ever shot in Cambodia. Instead of big Hollywood names, it stars Khmer-speaking non-professional actors. Instead of escapist popcorn fun, Jolie presents viewers with atrocities that took place decades ago in a country that most Western viewers would struggle to find on a map.

Yet from this grim subject-matter Jolie has made a quietly revelatory film that shows war and genocide through a child’s eyes without a single false or cloying note. Most of the film is doggedly realistic but Jolie makes outstanding use of dream sequences and bursts of surrealism: when the Khmer Rouge complete their first march through Phnom Penh, the camera suddenly turns upside down, as a Khmer dancer in a lion-head mask moves sinuously among the soldiers. These occasional breaks with reality highlight how bizarre the events must have seemed to someone too young to understand – too young, at first, to be as frightened as the adults. Suddenly Loung Ung has to flee her home and abandon her possessions. Her parents have to work in the fields; the family eats insects to survive.

In the wood-panelled library of her elegant, sprawling Los Angeles estate, Jolie admits it’s a hard sell. On screen her defining trait is her chilly poise; in person she has an ethereal, swan-like grace and a lively mind. Her home feels warm and inhabited, though she admits she’s still in the process of moving in (“You may have heard there’s been a sudden split,” she says, her only reference to her recent, much-publicised separation from Brad Pitt), and echoing through the house are the quick footsteps of some of her six children. “This isn’t the kind of movie people rush out to see,” she says. “I tried to make it a film not just for people who are interested in history: I tried to make it visually interesting. I want to help people sit through something that’s hard for them to sit through.”

In that she succeeded, for two main reasons. First, she elicited extraordinary performances from her actors, particularly Srey Moch Sareum, the nine-year-old lead, whom Jolie and her casting team found in a charity school in Phnom Penh; and Komphaek Phoeung, an interpreter, author and occasional actor who plays the family’s father. In his face viewers can see bewilderment, fear and his heroic efforts to maintain a brave face for his children.

Srey Moch Sareum, says Jolie, “figured out what some actors never figure out. Her job was to think of things. Her job was to watch things...I told her I never need to see tears. I don’t want you to laugh if you don’t feel like laughing. She did it all naturally.” The average viewer may know little about Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge, but by keeping the focus on Loung Ung and her family, she makes the film their story: the viewer is invested in their fate.

Second, the world in which these actors move is fully realised, thanks to meticulously designed sets, interiors and costumes. For this Jolie credits the hundreds of Cambodians who made up the cast and crew. Many of them remembered the war, she says, and “they tell you exactly what it was like...Everything [in the film] is based on someone’s experience. They talked us through everything.”

But at the centre of the film is Loung Ung’s experience. She was five years old when the Khmer Rouge took over and ten when she escaped to Thailand with her brother and sister-in-law. The regime killed both of her parents, two sisters and 20 other relatives. Eventually she resettled in Vermont, and today runs a restaurant and brewery in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband. Jolie says she was taken by the way that Loung Ung’s memoir “invites you into the experience of being a family in a time of war. She writes beautifully and honestly, and never tries to be more intellectual than her readers.” The two jointly adapted it for the screen.

Jolie’s involvement with Cambodia stretches back almost two decades. She was granted citizenship in 2005. Raised in Los Angeles, coming off a wild youth and heading into the peak of her career, she learned in Cambodia the tribulations of refugees and the dire poverty of the developing world. When she talks about Cambodia, her cool persona turns to genuine warmth. Cambodia, she says, “connected me” to the world: “I had my awakening there.”

She adopted her eldest son, Maddox, from a Cambodian orphanage 15 years ago. He is listed as an executive producer of “First They Killed My Father”, and gave his name to her Cambodian charity, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, housed on her property in the country’s remote north-west. The foundation focuses on education, health care and the conservation of forests and wildlife.

She has of course come in for a fair amount of criticism for her work in Cambodia – a film star using a poor country as a prop to make herself look generous and involved – but almost none of it comes from Cambodians themselves. In conversation she is realistic and humble about what an outsider like her is able to accomplish. She financed her foundation, but Cambodians run it: she has a career elsewhere, after all.

Like experienced NGO-types, she understands how difficult it is to solve problems discretely: success in de-mining a forest, for instance, produces an increase in poaching and deforestation. Conservation activists must also persuade people to act against their own immediate interests. “We see people come in with immediate cash, which solves a short-term need but is harmful longer-term. What we need to do is make a case for the steady long-term view.”

One of her co-producers, Rithy Panh, perhaps Cambodia’s best-known film-maker, says, “I’m used to producing when people just show up, shoot and go home. Angelina is not like that. She has a strong, intimate relationship with Cambodia...It gave her a bright view of what people can become.”

That may seem odd for a country best known for having survived a genocide, but Cambodia is resilient: travellers will find few more forward-looking, pragmatic, optimistic countries. Four decades after the Khmer Rouge’s fall, it is less hesitant to confront its past than it once was. And yet, the subject still makes the government jumpy. When Jolie was trying to get permission to make the film, she told government officials that “this isn’t a film about politics. We don’t want to bring up the horrors of the past. We want to help move the country forward: it’s just a story about a Cambodian family.”

Rithy Panh says they plan to take the film to every province (few Cambodians live in villages with movie theatres, and even fewer subscribe to Netflix, which produced the film). Most Cambodians were born after the Khmer Rouge’s fall; Rithy Panh says that the film will help them understand a past which people are still reluctant to discuss. “People will watch and they can talk. They can say to their children, ‘That’s how we lived’…[Jolie] directed the film, but it’s a Cambodian story.”

Jon Fasman is The Economist’s Washington correspondent. He was previously based in South-East Asia

Random Fuzzy

-  FTKMF is currently in 5th place in Rotten Tomatoes' Top DVD & Streaming across all platforms (Fandango, Netflix, iTunes Amazon, Amazon Prime, Hulu, vudu.)   It is the top film when looking at Netflix alone.

FTKMF was also released in select theaters but Netflix does not provide theater grosses.

- The L.A.Times "Asked if she has ever considered trying to tackle a big-budget studio franchise film, like a superhero movie." She has already been approached before as there were reports she was being courted for Captain Marvel.  After the success of FTKMF, the studios will be making a much more determined effort.  Directors who can make films that connect with critics and audiences alike are in short supply.  Even rarer still are those who can achieve that feat with films that combine emotional engagement, sustained tension and skillfully executed action -- ingredients of successful blockbusters -- all of which were on display in FTKMF.

If she were to ever be tempted to direct a big franchise, Star Wars, which has recently had director problems, may be the one with her children's urging.

-- Fussy

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Josh Rottenberg

On an early September afternoon, Angelina Jolie sat in a sunlit room in a scenic mountainside hotel, clearly feeling relieved.
The day before, Jolie’s latest directorial effort, the emotionally wrenching Cambodian-genocide drama “First They Killed My Father,” had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. The crowd gave the film the kind of reception any director would dream of, with cheers and tears in equal measure, while critics took to Twitter to proclaim it Jolie’s best work as a director.
It was an auspicious launch into the awards-season fray for the film, which was released by Netflix on Friday via streaming and in 10 theaters nationwide and has been selected by Cambodia as the country’s official entry for the foreign-language Oscar.
With the screening under her belt, Jolie could now take a breath and take in the rest of the famously low-key festival, which she was attending for the first time with her six children in tow, enjoying the freedom to walk around without being besieged by paparazzi or reporters lobbing prying questions about her recent split from Brad Pitt.

“I geeked out on Ken Burns,” she said brightly, picking at a plate of cheese and crackers beside her longtime friend, Loung Ung, who authored the 2000 memoir “First They Killed My Father” and co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Jolie. “When do you get the chance to do that?”
On its face, “First They Killed My Father” — a child’s-eye view of the horrors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that claimed the lives of some 2 million Cambodians — may seem an unlikely project for Jolie to have tackled. The film is entirely in the Khmer language and chronicles events that took place on the other side of the globe when she was just a toddler.
Yet for the 42-year-old actress-turned-director, it is perhaps the most personal film she has made — an attempt to recount a painful chapter in the history of the country where her 16-year-old adopted son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, was born and where she has put down her own roots over the last two decades.
Jolie and Ung first met some 16 years ago through their work on the issue of land mines in Cambodia. For years, they had talked about someday bringing Ung’s story of surviving the so-called killing fields to the screen. But neither was at all sure it would ever actually happen.
“Loung was in no rush to have the film made, and we knew Maddox needed to be in the right place because he was going to confront a lot,” Jolie said. “He goes to Cambodia a lot, he sees it — but not like that, not in that way. And then one day Mad said that he was ready.”
Jolie’s path to “First They Killed My Father” had begun in 2000, when she traveled to Cambodia to star in a very different kind of film, the action blockbuster “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”
“When I got there, I realized I knew nothing about this country and I felt very ignorant,” she said. “I decided to buy a book and learn a little bit so I picked up a $2 copy of ‘First They Killed My Father.’ That was really the beginning of an education and an awareness of how little I knew and how much I needed to change my view of the world.”
Inspired in part by her growing love for Cambodia — where she would eventually buy a house, become a citizen in 2005 and work for environmental conservation, education and other causes — Jolie started working with the United Nations as a goodwill ambassador in 2001, devoting more and more of her time to humanitarian efforts around the world that continue to this day.
Nearly four decades after the genocide ended, the subject is still difficult for many Cambodians to discuss, let alone see reenacted onscreen. But Ung says she was confident that Jolie would be able to do her story justice.
“Angie and I have gone through a lot in our friendship and I trust her as a woman, as a friend, as a filmmaker but also as a mother,” Ung said. “She has a track record, not just with me but with Cambodia and with the world, confronting tough issues of war and peace and refugees. So I knew she was somebody who would understand and pay careful attention and be very kind.”
Still, for Ung, who lost both her parents and two sisters in the genocide, watching the most traumatic events of her life play out onscreen for the first time, with young actress Sareum Srey Moch depicting her journey from carefree 5-year-old to orphaned child soldier to psychologically scarred survivor, was emotionally difficult.
“I went into it willing myself to be strong,” said Ung, who was sponsored by a church group after the war and resettled in Vermont and is now a human-rights activist. “I prepped myself for the hard scenes, the bombs and the soldiers and the land mines. But I found that the scenes that broke me the most were the first scenes with the family sitting down together for dinner. It was as simple as that. To see all nine of us at a table, just eating a meal — moments like that brought it back to what it’s all about, which is the love of family and all of us trying to survive together.”
Shooting the film in Cambodia in what became the largest production in the country since the war, Jolie drew upon every tool she had learned directing her previous features, 2011’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” 2014’s “Unbroken” and 2015’s “By the Sea.”
“I think I settled more into a voice,” she said. “Maybe it’s because of Maddox, I don't know, but I feel like I broke from the box a little bit and I felt bolder in the choices. I think just that little bit more confidence than I had before helped me to stay calm and let things happen on set.”
As for Maddox, Jolie said that working on the film, on which he is credited as an executive producer, put him more deeply in touch with his Cambodian heritage. “I never wanted to press on him that he had to be connected or had to love Cambodia,” she said. “That had to come naturally, and he had to confront a lot of hard realities of what his birth parents had probably lived through. But what happened was, yes, there was a lot to learn but he made something. He created something with his fellow countrymen. He was part of a Cambodian crew, part of a Cambodian film, as a Cambodian.”
Though it’s safe to say that “First They Killed My Father” is not a film that most Hollywood studios would have jumped at the idea of making, Netflix agreed early on to back it. “It is true that this type of film would be difficult to make at a major studio because it it lacks star power and is in a foreign language,” said Scott Stuber, who oversees Netflix’s growing slate of original feature films. “We are fortunate because, for us, we have over 100 million members around the world who have unique and diverse tastes, and we have seen the power of good storytelling traveling globally.”
That said, Jolie is aware that a film about a genocide that took place decades ago in a country many Americans would have difficulty finding on a map may not necessarily be the easiest sell to domestic audiences, particularly these days. As someone who is deeply concerned with the rest of the world, she says the strain of isolationism that has taken hold in this country’s political life troubles her.
“Maybe it’s because I wake up in the morning and my children are from many different countries and we travel in the world,” she said. “I live in the world. I’m proud to be American but I’m also proud to be Cambodian. I’m proud my daughter [Zahara] is Ethiopian. I think America is built on diversity and when we are at our best we are engaging in the world, pushing, representing something. And when we’re not able to do that, the damage that can have — how that spreads into all the other crises and conflicts and human-rights abuses in the world — is something we all need to be very aware of.”
Clearly energized by her experience making “First They Killed My Father,” Jolie said she is eager to find another project to direct. “I prefer being behind the camera,” she said. “I’ve never loved being in front of the camera. I’m much happier when I’m watching other people work.”
But she is looking for the right thing to spark her interest. Asked if she has ever considered trying to tackle a big-budget studio franchise film, like a superhero movie, she paused.
“I don’t know how good I’d be on that,” she said. “Those are more the ones I’d act in — that’s funny, isn’t it? But no, when you give two years of your life, I want to learn something. I want to be immersed in a culture or be learning about history.
“To direct something, you have to be so passionate. You have to live and die for it if you want to make it great. Some people are passionate about those big entertainment ones or new technologies. I’m passionate about country and culture and human beings.”

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Frame's John Horn with Angelina Jolie and Rithy Panh.

Jolie says that filming in Cambodia with a local cast and crew was non-negotiable, but that meant being conscious of the subject matter's emotional weight

Many people had not yet discussed, and would be discussing for the first time and reliving. And having someone in a Khmer Rouge uniform yell at them again - what would that do? So we talked a lot. Rithy would talk a lot - go to the villages, talk to the village chiefs, walk everybody through. Everybody had a choice of whether they wanted to do this or not, and how they would do it and be prepared. We also had therapists on set and we also had spirit houses. It was very important to pray...
"First They Killed My Father," which is both in theaters and available to stream on Netflix, was just named Cambodia's foreign-language submission to the Academy Awards. The Frame's John Horn met with Jolie and Panh to discuss the making of the film, and the importance of it being a truly Cambodian production.

Interview Highlights

How Jolie discovered Loung Ung's story while on location in Cambodia:
Jolie: It was my first trip there. ["Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was] the first big Western film to come in after the war and I read about the country. I realized how little I was taught in school, how little I had been educated. I felt very ignorant. I wanted to learn more. I expected to find a very bitter, dark people and country. I found a resilient, very positive, strong people. And I really wanted to understand. So, I went for a walk and I ended up on a corner and going through books, and thinking "I need to educate myself." The description of the story "Through a Child's Eyes" got my attention, so I bought a little two dollar copy on the corner and sat by myself and read the book.

On making art after the Khmer Rouge regime:
Panh: It's difficult at the beginning because most of our artists are dead. So we have nothing. After the Khmer Rouge, we had five masters of dance survive, one or two film directors - you come back and everyone's disappeared. So we need to rebuild it because genocide is not only killing people, but also destroying our identity, your freedom of thinking, your capacity of imagination. You keep the trauma with you, and it's very difficult to come out of genocide talking about genocide.

On the importance of working with Cambodian artists:
Jolie: I would never have made the film if it wasn't in Cambodia, if Rithy hadn't agreed to do it, if it wasn't with Cambodian actors, if it wasn't in [Khmer] - that was the whole reason to make this film. To give this country a chance to speak. And if they weren't ready, then we wouldn't have made the film.

Panh on working with Jolie as a director:
Panh: It's very important to be with the people [to make this kind of film]. If they go to the rice field, you must go to the rice field. There's no reason for you to stay in a safe place and put people in the rice field. It changes the communication with people, the relationship. I was very touched when I saw Angie go in the line for lunch. I produced many films before, and directors want their private temple, their private place. But Angie just goes with us.

Why Jolie's sons worked on the film:
Jolie: It was very much about family and I think for all of us, we had our family or close friends there. And Maddox is Cambodian. For all my children, this is their family member, [who] is Cambodian. So it was important for all of my children to be on set, to be a part of the project. Yes, I like it when my children have a good work ethic and I like to see them work, but really in truth, I wanted Mad to take this time and understand his country and understand his countrymen, and learn about his history and dedicate himself to really understanding it. And I also wanted him to work alongside his countrymen. We've been working there for 14 years. We have a home there, Mad goes there often. But this was going to be months and very immersed in being side by side, and I think it brought out a deeper understanding and pride that is beautiful to see.

[Editors Note: This article is presented in partnership with Netflix’s original film “First They Killed My Father” – now streaming on Netflix and in select theaters.]
First They Killed My Father” producer Rithy Panh is arguably the most influential Cambodian director in history. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge who escaped to Thailand in 1979, Panh found his footing as a filmmaker while living in Paris before returning to his native country 10 years later. Over the past 27 years, his work has largely taken a biographical focus, as he confronts the trauma of his family’s struggles from a number of cinematic perspectives. Viewed in full, his filmography tells the modern story of the Cambodian people, from their struggles to survive against an oppressive regime to the reverberations of those experiences in modern times. 

Panh has always taken a personal approach to his filmmaking. His first widely acclaimed project, 1994’s “Rice of People,” blends professional and amateur performers in the spare tale of an impoverished family attempting to make ends meet in a world still reeling from the horrors of the past. The film’s naturalistic style echoes the traditions of Italian Neorealism, and just as that era reflected recent wartime events, Panh’s film shows a keen ability to thread Cambodian history into an intimate story. Soon he could become the great chronicler of his country’s history.

With 2000’s “The Land of the Wandering Souls,” Panh explored the plight of Cambodian workers whose ditch-digging leads them to encounter bodies and land mines that speak to the continuing reminders of their genocidal past. In “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,” Panh explored the history of the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious prison with a blend of memories from former prisoners and some of the men who tortured them. In “Such, Master of the Forges of Hell,” he profiled a Khmer Rouge war criminal.

It was only a matter of time before Panh would turn the camera on his own journey. The Oscar-nominated 2013 documentary “The Missing Picture” is one of Panh’s most ambitious achievements, a semi-animated essay film about the plight of his family as they sought to escape the Khmer Rouge (and was not entirely successful in doing so). The film, which premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, uses stop-motion clay figures to represent Panh’s memories of his family’s struggles, echoing the degree to which he has internalized these memories from a child’s perspective. The filmmaker combines these elements with archival footage from the Pol Pot years, creating a fascinating blend of dreamlike rumination and historical specificity. 

“The Missing Picture” also provides a key foundation for watching “First They Killed My Father.” Panh’s memories are tied to his youth, and his deeper understanding of the massacre only came later; as a result, the film is an essential precedent for “First They Killed My Father” in that it explores the paradox of experiencing an adventurous survival epic even though the reality of the events was much bleaker. The title refers to a photograph taken by the Khmer Rouge that would bring a historical finality to many of the stories of the regime’s atrocities. Because Panh can’t find the picture, he makes a movie to fill in the gaps. “First They Killed My Father” is an extension of that goal, resurrecting the painful history of a generation and giving voice to the valiant efforts of those who survived dire circumstances to keep their country intact. 

Both “The Missing Picture” and “First They Killed My Father” take place between 1975 and 1979. Both are crucial to the contemporary development of Cambodian cinema. Panh’s film brought an international audience to his story and made it more accessible than ever before. Jolie’s work goes one step further. Not since “The Killing Fields” has a major filmmaker tackled these events, and that movie — while Oscar-nominated and still widely acclaimed — had no organic connection to the country it portrayed. “First They Killed My Father,” on the other hand, was filmed in the country with a predominantly Cambodian cast and crew (including director Angelina Jolie, who adopted a child from the country, was offered citizenship by the government and accepted). It provides a fully immersive look at the slow development of the Khmer Rouge takeover without stepping back to overexploit the events. 
There’s a fundamental authenticity to the way the movie takes its cues from the child’s viewpoint, as if no amount of complex historical explanation can convey the same degree of understanding provided by simply witnessing the atrocities. “First They Killed My Father” is an extension of Panh’s 30-year-effort to ensure that Cambodia’s national identity remains appropriately preserved for audiences around the world.

Thanks Pride&Joy

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Angelina is now listed as a producer of The Breadwinner instead of just as an executive producer.  That could make her eligible for credit with the Academy if it gets nominated.  Only 3 producers can get credit and The Breadwinner currently has 5.


2018 Best Director Oscars Predictions
Gregory Ellwood

This is a very fluid field with likely only Nolan and del Toro the only locks for a nomination at this point. [Posted Sept. 19]

Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Luca Guadagnino,”Call Me By Your Name”
Richard Linklater, “Last Flag Flying”
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg, “The Post”
Joe Wright, “The Darkest Hour”

Almost there
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Detroit”
Sofia Coppola, “The Beguiled”
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, “Battle of the Sexes”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman”
Angelina Jolie, “First They Killed My Father”
Yorgis Lanthimos, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Dee Rees, “Mudbound”
Ridley Scott, “All The Money In The World”
Michael Showalter, “The Big Sick”
Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”

Woody Allen, “Wonder Wheel”
Darren Aronofsky, “Mother!”
Noah Baumbach, “The Meyorwitz Stories (New and Selected)”
Dan Gilroy, “Roman Israel, Esq.”
David Gordon Green, “Stronger”
Bong Jong-Ho, “Okja”
Alexander Payne, “Downsizing”
Matthew Reeves, “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Taylor Sheridan, “Wind River”
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”

Major players in Oscar’s foreign-language category are starting to stake out their territories, ahead of the Academy’s October 2 submission deadline. On Monday, Cambodia selected Angelina Jolie’s child’s-eye view of the Khmer Rouge era, First They Killed My Father, as its official submission. Though Jolie has held dual American/Cambodian citizenship since 2005, the choice of a Western woman director to represent the Southeast Asian country is unusual, and brings both the actress’s star power and Netflix’s deep pocketbook to the foreign-language race. Meanwhile, the French Oscar committee has picked Robin Campillo’s AIDS activism drama BPM (Beats Per Minute) to represent the country over Michel Hazanavicius’s Jean-Luc Godard tribute, Redoutable, Screendaily’s Melanie Goodfellow reports. BPM, which The Orchard will release stateside, won the Grand Prix at Cannes and major plaudits from critics—including’s V.F.’s Richard Lawson, who called it “broadly enlightening and piercingly intimate.” Also in the mix are Ruben Östlund’s Swedish Palme d’Or-winning art-world satire, The Square (Magnolia), and Sebastián Lelio’s Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman (Sony Pictures Classics). The Academy has grown more international with its two recent classes of invitees—how the increasingly global group evaluates its most cosmopolitan category will be something to watch.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

IndieWire talked to Angelina Jolie about why choosing Netflix meant the only leeches she had to fight were real ones in Cambodia.

Angelina Jolie is basking in a standing ovation at Telluride after the first screening of “First They Killed My Father.” It’s the film she wanted to make: Based on the 2000 memoir of Loung Ung, who was five when the Khmer Rouge forced her family into work camps, it required a $24 million budget, a 60-day shoot, a two-hour, 16-minute cut. The only place she pitched the film is the only one who would let her make it: Netflix.

“She had a very specific view of the story she wanted to tell,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. “It’s very traditional. It’s just as resource-intense to make a small film as a big film, where there isn’t much infrastructure in Cambodia. It would have been difficult to get made anywhere, with all local talent. It all pays off on the screen.”

While Jolie’s film may be traditional in some ways, it’s radical in many others. “Netflix said ‘yes,’ and good on Ted Sarandos,” said Jolie. They could have said, ‘Yes, but here are your restrictions: You have to do it in English, you have to ask someone who’s known from China to play her mother, you have to cut these things to make it a smaller number.'”

Here’s Jolie’s vision for the film, which became the biggest film ever shot in Cambodia and is now the country’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign-Language film. It will be hard to beat — and it could also serve as checklist of reasons why any studio would say, “No.”

1. The movie chooses truth over gloss.

Ung was 30 when she began talking to family members in Cambodia and researching “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.” And 17 years ago, when Jolie visited Cambodia for the first time to shoot “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” she read Ung’s memoir and looked her up, sharing her desire to adopt a Cambodian child — who turned out to be her son Maddox. They have been close friends ever since.

Jolie and Ung worked on a script, whittling her story into a lean screenplay and looking for the visual details. Ung still cherishes the blue shirt in the film, the one article of clothing from her past that did not get dyed black. “The book is the film,” Jolie told me at Telluride. “The guide. I don’t feel like I made this as much as I just put the pieces together and brought people together. It’s grown into something we all made together. And Maddox is learning about his country for the first time.”

2. A young girl’s realistic and very uncomfortable perspective tells the story.

Jolie slowly takes us through each transition, showing it all from the perspective of wide-eyed young Loung Ung, who learns what it means to be unsafe and abused and starving. Along the way, she loses family members and trains to become a child soldier. And she is eventually separated from both of her parents and all but one sibling.

“They were on that road, and they just can’t get off that road,” Jolie said. “And their feet hurt and they want to get off that road and the audience wants to get off that road. You have to make them stay on that road and let them see how heavy that thing was that she was carrying.”
Agile Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s cameras take us close to Ung as she experiences what is going on around her. You see the flora and fauna, the beauty of nature, flowers and insects. On set, leeches were so commonplace in water scenes that everyone just flicked them off. And that’s a real giant fuzzy tarantula.

3. It’s a Cambodian movie.

Of course, Jolie has seen “The Killing Fields;” it’s one of her favorite films. But she “wanted to do something where the hero was Cambodian,” she said. “And I wanted it to be mine. And shot in Cambodia.”

Jolie loves directing because it lets her pursue subjects that she cares about, even though “the pressure of being the director and making sure it goes well for everybody can be really hard,” she said. “I also like the responsibility and I like to work hard and I hope I can be a good leader collaborating with great people.”

Also joining Jolie, who has been a Cambodian citizen for a decade, was Cambodian filmmaker and producer Rithy Panh, who directed foreign-language Oscar nominee “The Missing Picture.” His Rithy Bophana Prods. hired and supervised more than 500 Cambodian craftspeople and technicians, many of whom, like him, were survivors or children of survivors of the genocide. The film recruited more than 3,500 Cambodian background actors.

“It was very hard to get things brought in,” said Jolie, “the equipment and moving things around. Rithy never make me feel like he was looking over my shoulder. He was giving me what you would want, which is support.”

Ironically, given his history under the Khmer Rouge, Pan helped organize the Khmer Rouge soldiers on set. And Ung’s role was “taking care of everybody,” said Jolie, who juggled large battle sequences, stuntmen, explosions, and thousands of extras. “I was making sure everyone was safe first and foremost, for sure,” she said.

In one battle scene, the children are caught in the crossfire between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese Army, crouching in the river trying to find cover. “Mapping out a battle sequence that is going to be seen from one person’s point of view focuses you,” she said. “You can’t just shoot any shot that you feel is cool. You put yourself in a restricted position. We had to find a part of the river where she would be in the center of that, and figure out how things would move around her.”

4. The sound design is delicate, the soundtrack minimal.

The score by Marco Beltrami is neither manipulative nor overbearing. “I want to use it where I need to use it, and I like it to feel real,” Jolie said. “Because it’s the emotional point of view of a child. We needed to be her, absorbing things at the pace that she would be able to allow herself to be observant, so she looks directly at some things at the end, and that’s when it gets more horrific. This was a child’s mind that gets assaulted.”

Finally, Jolie wanted Netflix for its global outreach. “I feel this kind of film needs an audience,” she said. “I wanted to educate people, I wanted to do this for Cambodia. I didn’t want it to be that small thing that disappeared. It will reach over 100 countries. I appreciate there are times people want to see a movie together at home. Because it’s very emotional and it’s heavy and they have the option of watching it on their own time. What I felt was best was to really get this message out.”

Angelina Jolie on her gripping new film about the Cambodian genocide

The Hollywood actress tells the true story of a young girl’s survival under Pol Pot. She talks to Jon Swain, himself a witness to the killing fields, about making it real

The Sunday Times, September 17 2017, 12:01am

When Angelina Jolie first arrived in Cambodia 17 years ago, she knew little about the country’s tragic past. She was there to be filmed amid the fabled Angkor temples in scenes for the action-packed adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Something stopped the young actress turning her back on the country, however. It captivated her.

In the 1970s, the Vietnam War had spilled across Cambodia’s borders and the country was convulsed by civil war, accompanied by American bombing. What followed in 1975 was Pol Pot’s murderous revolution. He turned the clock back to Year Zero, telling the millions of Cambodians toiling in the giant labour camp their country had become: “To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.” His genocidal regime killed about 2m people, or a quarter of the population.

Jolie was smitten by the survivors’ brave struggle to recover and by Cambodia’s beauty. She returned again and again. She adopted a Cambodian orphan, her son Maddox, and became involved in humanitarian work: in recognition of that, by royal decree, she was made a Cambodian citizen.

Now the Oscar-winning actress has made a film about the genocide, as seen through the eyes of a little girl. First They Killed My Father is adapted from the bestselling book of that name by Loung Ung, who by the age of 10 had endured the killing of her mother and father, and the death of two sisters, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Through luck and her own resilience, she survived, and she and Jolie collaborated on the script.

Cambodia was a living hell. Doctors, professionals, even those with soft hands or spectacles that suggested they could read, were killed, and their executioners were often child soldiers. Pol Pot saw children such as Ung not as individuals, but as tiny vessels to be indoctrinated as a source of power. Even children’s laughter was forbidden.

This is not the first feature film to explore the Khmer Rouge genocide. In 1984, Roland Joffé directed The Killing Fields, in which I am a character. But what distinguishes Jolie’s film and makes it so special is that she shot it in Cambodia, in the very place where so many people had suffered and died, using an all-Cambodian cast, many of whom were survivors or the children of survivors. The dialogue is also in the Cambodian language.

The film had its premiere earlier this year in Siem Reap. It was screened a few days later in the inner arena of the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, which I remember in the last weeks of the war as a casualty receiving centre, overflowing with the dead and dying as rockets crashed around.

I spoke to Jolie about it last week. As director, she said, she saw her role as shepherding the film and making it possible. But, ultimately, she believed it had to be made by the people of Cambodia themselves.

Cambodia has moved on a great deal in the past 40 years. Yet for many the genocide still looms over their lives, and the topic remains politically sensitive. Was the country ready for her film, and did Jolie ever doubt that it would work?

“Yes, I did,” she admitted. “I was not sure, and so we stepped very lightly. For some films, making and releasing them is the success. For this film, being able to make it — having the ability to make it, and the country agreeing to it — was the success.”

She said if the Cambodians had not responded and come forward to work on the film, and the local authorities and NGOs had not been willing to make it possible and give their support, she would not have been able to go ahead.

Its authenticity, she insisted, was not due to any talent of hers, but to her ability to listen. She let the Cambodians guide the film, from how a father might respond to his children to how the Khmer Rouge would behave in particular scenes. It was not her imagination informing it, but long, hard, painful conversations with people who had to recall what it was like.

“Everything we learnt to make the film was something we were learning about the country itself — where the scars had settled, why we would need therapists on set — because so many people had never talked about their experiences before,” she said.

“We were conscious we were in the very country, on the very ground, where people were hurt and buried, and that we were recreating those times and a very particular negative energy, which is palpable for Cambodians, given they have such a strong sense of the spirits.”

As a result, she said, nothing was more important than being respectful of the souls of those who had perished. “Before we put actors in Khmer Rouge uniforms, we would have spirit houses on set, and incense and traditional offerings.”

Having witnessed myself at first hand as a young journalist the Khmer Rouge’s brutal takeover of the country, I had wondered, too, whether the film could ever capture the atmosphere of those terrible times. I need not have worried. I think the film is remarkable for its authenticity. It is wrenching and sad and full of beauty and humanity, like the Cambodia I once knew.

People clapped and wept at the Phnom Penh screening. The old members of the audience saw themselves in it, and the young ones realised what their parents and grandparents had suffered; it was, for some, the first time they had talked to each other about the genocide. For, although the film is based on Ung’s story, it is the story of all Cambodian children and the parents who tried to protect them and keep them alive.

“It is Loung’s story, but survivors see it as their story, too, and it is wonderful that they see themselves in it,” Jolie said. “It has been accepted as a true story, but also as a fable to tell people what happened.”

The acclaimed film-maker Rithy Panh worked closely with Jolie as her co-producer. He, too, lost his family under Pol Pot, and his own films, most notably the award-winning documentary The Missing Picture, have shone a light on the genocide. Panh was keen to ensure that the film’s portrayal of the Khmer Rouge’s barbarity did not stamp out the country’s underlying humanity. Here and there, we see glorious lotus flowers blooming in the mud, symbols of hope amid the horror.

“Angelina is not someone who came to make a film about us,” Panh told me. “She came to make a film with us. She loves Cambodia sincerely, with humility. One thing I remember that stays with me. She asked me if I could build a small spirit house on set. Sometimes she would put incense, just as we do, to pay respect to the spirits and the souls at the location where we were shooting. She did it so naturally.”

Nobody will fail to be moved by the poignantly uplifting performance of Sreymoch Sareum, the little girl playing Ung. Coming from a simple family in the Phnom Penh suburbs, and seven at the time of filming, she is hardly as tall as the AK-47 rifle she is forced to carry, and has Ung’s cheeky resilience and independence.

Jolie said she gave so much more than anyone expected from such a young actor. “In the editing room, when I thought I would cut away to the point of view, I kept coming back to her. She is a very intelligent young girl, as well as a wonderful actor. You are drawn to her because you can see her mind working, and she is very present.”

“There was an affection between her and Angelina,” Panh said. “Angelina created an environment where she understood it was not reality, it was a film, so there was no confusion. We did not tell her to cry or not to cry. She decided herself, according to the environment we created for her. Angelina corrected a few things, but she never pushed her into performing something unnatural to her.”

The film provides an important lesson about Cambodia’s need for reconciliation with justice, not revenge. There is an incident in Ung’s book where a captured Khmer Rouge soldier is beaten to death by a vengeful crowd. In the film he is battered, but survives. The decision to change it was made in a group discussion between Ung, Jolie and Panh.

“We could not leave viewers with the feeling that Cambodians were vengeful people,” Jolie said. “There were acts of revenge, but they were minimal compared with the amount of forgiveness and moving forward that was shown.”

Killing the Khmer Rouge soldier would have been more dramatic in some respects on screen. But the three of them agreed that it would have been less true to Cambodia and did not fit in with the emotions of a child like Loung. “The suffering from this genocide is so great that it exceeds the desire for vengeance,” Panh said.

He disagreed profoundly with the German philosopher Theodor W Adorno’s controversial dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”. “I say that after Auschwitz we need more poetry. For me that is the lesson of this film. It proves we Cambodians are capable of speaking and expressing ourselves about our history. At last we can talk and discuss what happened, and thereby begin a process of reconstruction of our identity.”

The genocide still casts a shadow. But it is fading with time. Watching Jolie’s film, I am reminded once again that the beauty of Cambodia lies almost everywhere, and most of all in the faces of its children who are the same age as Ung was 40 years ago. How heartwarming it is to see them playing and laughing together, unlike Ung and all those others whose childhood was stolen by genocide.

First They Killed My Father is available on Netflix