In a rare visit to Phnom Penh, Roland Joffe, the British director of “The Killing Fields,” suggested that a trial for Khmer Rouge leaders should be held “as soon as possible,” but warned that its purpose should be “to heal,” not revenge.
“If it purpose is to find out what went wrong, what people were feeling…to reach understanding, then the trial is important,” Joffe said at the offices of the Cambodia Trust, which fits poor Cambodians with artificial limbs.
“It also has a value in the international community, to show that certain acts are illegal within or outside a country. I hope it doesn’t become about revenge only.
“The most important thing is to learn the psychological mechanism that led to the atrocities, because it happens not only in Cambodia, but in other parts of the world.”
Joffe, 55, was in Phnom Penh to attend the graduation for the Cambodia Trust’s School of Prosthetics and Orthotics. Joffe founded the Trust in 1989, when he was moved by the sight of legions of amputees forced to use crude wooden prosthetics.
The 1989 visit was his first to Cambodia. The country was closed to foreigners when “The Killing Fields” was filmed, in the early 1980s. The movie was largely filmed in Thailand.
Sitting between the administrative and clinic managers at the Trust, both of whom are Cambodian, he said he was impressed at the speed at which the NGO was integrating Cambodian talent. The clinic began operating in 1992.
Speaking after the end of a morning press conference, he suggested sympathy with critics who have objected to the display of hundreds of skulls in the stupa at the Killing Fields and on a wall-sized map of Cambodia at the Tuol Sleng museum.
“Those monuments went up very soon after [the Khmer Rouge period ended], and they lack a religious, or at least a spiritual, sense. They are philosophical and political, but you need a memorial that allows people to express that spiritual side of themselves. Not that you should get rid of those monuments, but perhaps they should be rethought.”
Joffe, who is also touring Cambodia Trust clinics in Kompong Chhnang and Sihanoukville, said he had seen a “sense of confidence in the faces of people” that was absent in his last visits. “Not that everything is all right, but that the right work could be done to restore Cambodia’s vitality. Psychologically, this is very important.”
Asked by a Cambodian reporter whether he planned on making another movie about Cambodia, he replied that “the world is a hard place and people are mostly concerned about their own problems.
“I look forward to the day when Cambodian film crews go make films in Europe,” he added, “and European journalists sit in a room and ask [a Cambodian director] if he’s going to make a film about their country.”
“The Killing Fields,” Joffe’s first feature, revealed the horrors of the Khmer Rouge to a popular audience and earned three Academy Awards.
Joffe also directed “The Mission,” starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro; “Fat Man and Little Boy,” with Paul Newman; “City of Joy,” with Patrick Swayze; and last year’s “Vatel,” with Uma Thurman.