Like a lot of people my age, I first became aware of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide through the BBC’s children’s TV show Blue Peter (1958 – ). In 1988 the annual appeal was The Great Blue Peter Bring and Buy Sale for Kampuchea (in 1979 they had done a similar appeal to bring food to the survivors of Pol Pot’s utterly fucking warped ideology). Mention Blue Peter appeals to people of my age and this is generally the one they will remember, no surprise as we were 8 and just starting to look outwards and understand the world a bit. It stuck with me and when I saw The Terminator (1984) for the first time about three years later it was the Cambodian skulls that I was brought back to.
Even having spent a further 26 years looking out at the world, Rithy Panh’s documentary telling of the Cambodian genocide is still a slap in the face. It’s a tale told using simple clay figures and archive footage that drag this tragedy of mass numbers into a very personal and staggering story of humanity, will and survival. What works is the simplicity of it all, a simplicity that still manages to raise large questions about freedom and the meaning of recorded images.
This is a great example of abstracting a subject into focus.
Here’s a clip from the Blue Peter appeal of one of the presenters interviewing the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.