Thursday, October 1, 2015

IHL Film Series: The Killing Fields of Cambodia and The Ripple Effects of a Humanitarian Crisis

Growing up in Longmont, I learned about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia from those who had lived through it. Several friends of mine came to the area as refugees, fleeing Prime Minister Pol Pot's efforts to purge Cambodia's intellectual elite and return the country to an idealized agrarian society as part of his "Year Zero" policy. Ironically, a Cambodian refugee and classmate of mine became the first student in my high school to gain admission to Harvard. The violence that drove his family, and countless other families, to seek new lives in the US was depicted with profound realism in the 1984 film The Killing Fields, this month's installment in the International Humanitarian Law Film Series, screening at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at the Red Cross, 444 Sherman St., Denver.

The Killing Fields follows reporter Sydney Schanberg as he and fellow journalist Dith Pran navigate a Cambodia ripped apart by ideology and violence. The two men are arrested and eventually separated. Pran is captured and forced to labor for the regime and Shanberg returns to the U.S to write Pran's story. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations for its depiction of Pran's repeated attempts to escape the regime, detailed in parallel with Shanberg's stateside attempts to rescue his friend. The American Film Institute included The Killing Fields in its list of 100 "Most Inspiring Films" in 2006.

40 years since the Khmer Rouge gained control of the country after the country's civil war, Cambodia still reels from the Pol Pot regime. Despite the official fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, violence gripped Cambodia for two decades, finally subsiding in 1999, the year following Pol Pot's death. Many in the nation live in crushing conditions of rural poverty, in isolated villages that lack educational or vocational opportunities beyond subsistence farming. Many young Cambodians who leave their agrarian villages for the cities engage in sex work, which has lead to high rates of  HIV/AIDS among the urban population. The HIV/AIDS among the urban population. The ICRC's International Committee of the Red Cross began in 1979. providing aid in the country in 1979; the ICRC remains active in Cambodia providing mine alleviation support and offering Restoring Family Links services to reconnect families torn apart by the nation's decades of conflict. The Killing Fields provides a historical perspective on the legacies of war, genocide and extremism that still affect Cambodians decades after the height of the totalitarian regime.

A discussion of International Humanitarian Law, genocide and the preservation of human dignity will follow the IHL film presentation, and food is provided. To RSVP for the film presentation, click here. For more information on the film or the International Humanitarian Law film series, contact Tim Bothe.

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