At the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center on Tuesday, guests at a screening of Anne Aghion’s documentary “My Neighbor, My Killer” watched how another country strove to find reconciliation in the wake of its bloody past.
Screened in Cambodia the day after the sentencing of former Khmer Rouge secret police chairman Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, Ms Aghion’s documentary is a compilation of her three previous films on the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In 100 days that year, the ethnic-majority Hutu Rwandan government exterminated up to million members of the Tutsi minority.
“I wanted to show what happens after the cameras go away,” said Ms Aghion. “Reconciliation takes generations, and that process needs to be acknowledged and documented.”
Ms Aghion said that her documentary, which focuses on one of the thousands of traditional community courts–called “gacaca” courts–set up by the Rwandan government to try crimes at a local level, is about “how you re-knit the social fabric and live together again.”
“How are we supposed to feel?” asks one woman in the film, who is struggling to re-build her life as the man that hacked her husband and children to death returns to her village.
It is a wrenching question to which Ms Aghion’s film offers no easy answers. Her film, she said, does not provide an universal answer to how victims of genocide can find peace again but is rather about how “these particular people dealt with this.” “Not everyone has to deal with it in the same way,” she added.
Though the gacaca courts may have offered some measure of relief to the many victims who faced the men who murdered their families, as well as to the criminals who perhaps found forgiveness, Ms Aghion said that the trials do not represent “total justice.”
“They’re rather a step in the right direction” in a long process towards reconciliation, said Ms Aghion, adding: “Complete healing takes generations.”
Ms Aghion said that she hopes to “build a bridge between Rwanda and Cambodia” alongside Rithy Panh, the director of Bophana. She said she hopes Mr Panh’s film “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine” will soon be screened in Rwanda, and she plans to organize an audiovisual center in Rwanda much like Cambodia’s Bophana.
Ms Aghion said she hopes that Cambodian viewers can find strength in the film as they work to find their own version of reconciliation, as did the Rwandans she interviewed, adding that she will show the documentary in Cambodian schools and in the countryside.
“It’s very important for people to see that they’re not the only ones to whom this happened,” she said.