Website: www.deaconofdeath.org

Award:

 

Golden Calf Dutch Film festival

"A tale so intimate and suspenseful that is has the feel of a novel."
Anne-Marie O'Connor, LA Times.
Other reviews: Cambodian Daily, The Power of Culture.
Dutch Reviews: NRC Handelsblad, Volkskrant, Het Parool, GPD.


Order this movie now!

Looking for justice in today's Cambodia. A Golden Calf at the Dutch Film Fest. The jury: "a moving story in which a Cambodian woman dares to confront the man whom she holds responsible for the death of her family. Convincingly and with respect the director has depicted this almost classic drama of good and evil, crime, punishment and forgiveness." A new DVD with extra's is being produced within the framework of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.


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Looking for justice in today's Cambodia


A film by Jan van den Berg and Willem van de Put.

The atrocities Sok Chea witnessed as a child during the rule of Pol Pot continue to haunt to this day, nearly thirty years later.

So she is shocked when she suddenly comes across the man who was in charge of her prison and whom she holds responsible for murdering most of her family. Once again he holds a prominent position, this time as Deacon of Death or leader of cremation ceremonies.
She decides to collect evidence against him. He must stand trial. But can she succeed in a country still ruled by fear, where justice is virtually non-existent and corruption endemic? Besides which, Cambodians believe in karma and forgiveness. Wrongdoers are punished after their death anyway and will suffer for many lives to come. Sok Chea?s quest leads her to a confrontation with Karoby, in the same pagoda where the atrocities occurred...

Synopsis


The atrocities Sok Chea witnessed as a child during the rule of Pol Pot continue to haunt to this day, nearly thirty years later.

So she is shocked when she suddenly comes across the man who was in charge of her prison and whom she holds responsible for murdering most of her family.
Once again he holds a prominent position, this time as Deacon of Death or leader of cremation ceremonies. She decides to collect evidence against him. He must stand trial. But can she succeed in a country still ruled by fear. Besides which, Cambodians believe in karma and forgiveness.
Wrongdoers are punished after their death anyway and will suffer for many lives to come.
Sok Chea'ss quest leads her to a confrontation with Karoby, in the same pagoda where the atrocities occurred.

Distribution and use.
The film has been shown in many International Film Festivals. Cinema release in 26 cinemas in Holland.


Premiere Cambodia
THE CAMBODIA DAILY, July 20, 2005
KR Survivor Faces Father's Killer in New Film
BY KAY KIMSONG AND ERIK WASSON

A powerful new documentary released in part to help Cambodians prepare mentally for the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal had its Cambodian premiere in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

"Deacon of Death" is a highly personalized documentary about one Phnom Penh woman's confrontation with the man she says massacred her family and others living in a village in Takeo province's Tram Kak district during the 1975 to 1979 era.

The movie, which won Best Documentary at the 2004 Dutch Film Festival, is in Khmer with English-language subtitles. It is available on DVD and will be shown at some local health centres and most likely aired on television.

In it, Sok Chea and her friend Chan Theary drum up the courage to journey to the countryside and finally face the man who still casts a pall of fear over Sok Chea's life.

The film's climactic scene left many in the audience visibly moved: Sok Chea and a monk confront Mr Karoby, the former party cadre whom she believes ordered the disembowelling and cannibalization of her fellow villagers, in the pagoda where the murders occurred.

"I am still scared of him," Sok Chea said in tears after the viewing. "I feel a little bit relieved....but I am still angry with him."

Sok Chea, whose father and mother were killed, described the tortures villagers received at the hands of the communist radicals as punishment for fishing or picking cucumbers.

"Many people are afraid to tell the stories of what happened at that time," she said. "There are other [guilty men] in the village but they are not heavy like Karoby."

The film, made by Dutch filmmakers Jan van den Berg and Willem van de Put sparked an emotional discussion at the premiere at Chaktomuk Theater about how Cambodians should best come to terms with the nation's terrifying past.

Audience member Nhem Vanthan disclosed his own previous temptation to shoot the man he named Mr Soi, who he believes killed his relatives. He angrily recalled seeing a visiting Chinese delegation watch him perform slave Labor and asked if China will ever be made to confess its role in supporting Pol Pot's cultural revolution.

Venerable Chorn Serey Sanoth, one of a group of monks in the audience from Wat Odtanawatey in Russei Keo district said that monks can play a vital role in providing mental health services both to traumatized victims and to killers.

"Karoby made many sins, so he will face his sins one day. But because of some good things he built, he can stay with us, and he is continuing to do good things to make up for the sin he committed," he said.

Karoby works at a pagoda as a cremation official and as a healer, hence the movie's title, "Deacon of Death."

"The Khmer Rouge tribunal may make it difficult for some to accept that those they know to have committed crimes will not be brought to justice," filmmaker Willem van de Put told the audience. "This movie raises questions such as what can we do to help such people see benefit from this tribunal. What can be done to in improve their lives?"

Sean Visoth, secretary-general of the KR tribunal task force, praised the film after the showing saying it will help victims cope. He said the confrontation scene in front of a benevolent monk showed the power of a fair trial in dealing with Cambodia's past.

"I think the tribunal will be a medicine," he said.

Several organisations have decided to distribute and use the film in Cambodia: TPO, Save the Children, Racha and Healthnet International.

Director's note


In 1997 I made the documentary film Mindfields in Cambodia. The film shows how people slowly start talking about their experience during the Khmer Rouge period. The film was shown in many countries and especially In Cambodia where they made use of the film in special programmes.

The question was raised whether there should be a tribunal. Even though there was resistance against this, the call for justice remained strong. When it seemed very likely that such a tribunal would take place I wanted to make a film in which we could show how the people we worked with earlier would experience this
Then I met Sok Chea and she told me her story of how she saw Mr. Karoby again, the Khmer Rouge leader of the village where she lived during that regime. She wanted justice. This inspired me to follow her while she gathered information about Mr. Karoby. I myself wondered how it was possible that a man, who was depicted as a tyrant, could still live in an ordinary village where he was even respected.

While working on the film I came to know this evil man and slowly came to understand how he himself was well aware of his past and tried to repair his karma by doing good deeds. He helped the poor and took care of cremation ceremonies.
That's how the film got its title: Deacon of Death.
It took years and a great deal of convincing before Mr Karoby and Sok Chea would take part in the film. Both their lives were ruled by fear. We sincerely hope that this film will help not only them, but also many other Cambodians to overcome the paralysing fear which still haunts the country today.

I made many documentaries in which I mixed actual facts and elements with drama by introducing actors. In the case of
Deacon of Death adding drama elements was not needed. Reality is sometimes stronger than fiction.

Jan van den Berg, December 2004

Credits


Photography Brigitte Hillenius
add. photography Jan van den Berg

Sound: Pim Verdonk
add. sound: Yos Vong Dara
Max Frick, Han Otten

Editing: Srdjan Fink
Babbe deThouars
Pim Verdonk
Luce van de Weg

Sound editing: Bart Jilesen
Soundpalette

Script:
Marina Alings
Jan van den Berg
Willem van de Put

Music advice: Paul Oomens
Dancing teacher Vuth Chan Moly
Dance: Ouk Somaly

Translations: Ouch Sovanna
Willem van de Put
Liesbeth Blankhart
Peter van Oers

Titles: Guido van Eekelen

Color: correction Hans Buitink

Producers: Chan Theary
Loran Kuijpers
Nathalie Nijkamp
Direction Jan van den Berg

Commissioning editor Babeth M. VanLoo

a co-production of DRS Film and Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation
the producers wish to thank:
Henk Bakker, Jolie Ermers, Jan van Geloven, Marinde Hurenkamp, Jean Karel Hylkema, Pheng Pong Rasy, Gert van Rees, Sin Khin, Marc Vandenberghe, Dick Willemsen
Stan Neumann, Binger editing workshop, Youk Chhang, Cambodian Documentation Centre
The authorities of Ang Tasom, Healthnet International

Music:
Lou Harrison: Rekindling of the Fire from Solstice (1949)
Leta Miller (flute) & ad hoc ensemble directed by Dennis Russell Davies

Charles Koechlin: La veille fontaine from L'ancienne maison de campagne op. 124 (1923-33)
Deborah Richards (piano)

Valentin Silvestrov: Allegro vivace from Post Scriptum for violin & piano
(1990-91)
Gidon Kremer (violin) & Vadim Sacharov (piano)

Lou Harrison: Molto adagio from Concerto in Slendro (1961)
Maria Bachmann (violin) & California Symphony directed by Barry Jekowsky

Funded by:
BOS Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation
Dutch Cultural Broadcasting Fund
ICCO Interchurch Organisation for Development and Co-operation,
NCDO National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development.









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