A private film crew recorded former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav’s secret visits to Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng last week, the tribunal co-investigating judges said in a statement Monday.
The visits, which were intended to help judges reconstruct the scenes of the alleged crimes of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, were strictly off limits to the public and the press, on the grounds that judicial investigations are by law secret.
The reconstructions at the killing fields and S-21 prison were recorded by court staff to be used as evidence. In addition, a second, private camera crew helmed by French attorney-turned-writer Jean Reynaud and French filmmaker Remi Laine, was also present.
“The documentary film intends to deal with the investigating phase of the KR trials and the work of the investigating teams (both Cambodian and International),” Jean Reynaud wrote by e-mail Monday. “We believe it is of the utmost importance to keep a living testimony of this phase of the story,” he added.
Arte, the French-German public television network, has provided most of the 300,000 euro ($455,000) budget, and plans to air the documentary after the trials conclude, Reynaud said, adding that he is still seeking additional funding from the French government.
“No commercial distribution is currently planned. This is not in the nature of the project anyway,” he said.
Reynaud said he and Laine had agreed not to release any images of the visits or information until the trials have concluded.
“When the film will be aired (when all the trials are over), footage of investigations measures (such as the reconstructions that we filmed) will be provided to the ECCC Archives to be accessed by third parties under the Archives Department supervision,” Reynaud said by e-mail.
In their statement, the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s co-investigating judges emphasized that the documentary recordings were “made for pedagogical and archive objectives. This material is part of a broader documentary project to describe the technical aspects of the investigative phase of these proceedings.”
The filmmakers did not pay the court for the privilege of access to closed proceedings, and they agreed to a number of constraints, the judges said.
The judges did not specify what those constraints were, except to say that the documentary will be released only after all ECCC trials, including appeals, have concluded.
“[T]he pedagogical and archiving documentary made in the circumstances outlined above cannot be considered to amount to press coverage, where time is of the essence and to which the above-noted level of content control would be inappropriate,” the judges wrote.
French attorney Francois Roux, who represents Duch, said by telephone from France that he did not feel the documentary compromised the secrecy of the judicial process.
“From the moment that there is the permission of the co-investigating judges, there is no problem for me,” he said.
S-21 survivors Chum Mey and Vann Nath, both of whom were present at the tribunal’s reconstruction at Tuol Sleng alongside Duch, said they had not been aware they were being filmed by documentary filmmakers.
“They didn’t tell me,” Vann Nath said, adding that he had no problem with being filmed.
“I saw they filmed and thought they were from the court, I didn’t know they were private,” he said.
Chum Mey said, “I just saw they were filming.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he was troubled by the co-investigating judges’ decision to let the filmmakers in.
“I don’t expect a court to be a movie production company. It’s a trial for justice,” he said. “Hollywood already made an excellent movie, ‘The Killing Fields.’”
Others struggled to understand the differing access the court granted to the private filmmakers and to the press, a member of which was detained by police outside Tuol Sleng on Wednesday and her photographs erased.
Magnum photographer John Vink, who was threatened with being blacklisted by the court Wednesday if he photographed Duch, wrote in an e-mail Monday to the tribunal’s public affairs staff that he found it “quite weird” that judges had the power to decide who is considered a member of the press and who is not.
“Denying the fact that the press does not play a pedagogical or an archival role is quite strange and even insulting,” he wrote.
Heather Ryan, who monitors the court for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said it was encouraging that there will be a high-quality film produced after the trials are over, but that didn’t “mitigate the need for real-time information.”
“As with much information from the court, the details about this project only came out after pressure from outside sources,” he said.
“People would be better served if the court were more proactive about providing information,” she added.
ECCC Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit declined to comment, saying, “I had no initiative in this.”
In their statement, the co-investigating judges revealed little about their selection process except to say that Reynaud and Laine had been picked “after reviewing several options.”
“They have legal qualifications, experience in Cambodia, are specialists in precisely this kind of judicial documentary and were willing to agree to all of the Co-Investigating Judges[’] constraints,” the judges said in their statement.
Reynaud, formerly a French attorney, said he has been traveling to Cambodia since December 1991 and was a member of the Collective for Khmer Rouge Victims, a victim group based in France, until resigning to make this documentary film. He said he left the bar in 2004 to write full time, mostly novels and screenplays.
Laine is a French documentary director, who has specialized in films on judicial topics for 20 years, Reynaud said. He co-authored a TV series “10×90’” about the French judicial system; the series is used for legal training purposes in France and abroad, Reynaud said.
He said his team planned to return to Cambodia four or five times over the next year. “We will concentrate on the victims during future trips and nothing will be aired without their consent,” he added.
The court’s UN Public Affairs Officer, Peter Foster, said: “Access to that area was solely in the hands of the co-investigating judges.”
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)