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Angelina Jolie's 'First They Killed My Father' had therapists on set for its cast and crew




The Frame's John Horn with Angelina Jolie and Rithy Panh, who co-directed the film
The Frame's John Horn with Angelina Jolie and Rithy Panh, who co-directed the film "First They Killed My Father."
Jonathan Shifflett/KPCC

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Angelina Jolie bought a copy of author Loung Ung's memoir for two dollars on a Cambodian street corner 17 years ago.

Now, she's teamed up with Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh to make a film based on Ung's book, "First They Killed My Father," which tells the story of the Cambodian Civil War and the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that followed. 

Jolie says that filming in Cambodia with a local cast and crew was non-negotiable, but that meant being conscious of the subject matter's emotional weight:
 
Many people had not yet discussed, and would be discussing for the first time and reliving. And having someone in a Khmer Rouge uniform yell at them again - what would that do? So we talked a lot. Rithy would talk a lot - go to the villages, talk to the village chiefs, walk everybody through. Everybody had a choice of whether they wanted to do this or not, and how they would do it and be prepared. We also had therapists on set and we also had spirit houses. It was very important to pray...
"First They Killed My Father," which is both in theaters and available to stream on Netflix, was just named Cambodia's foreign-language submission to the Academy Awards.
 
The Frame's John Horn met with Jolie and Panh to discuss the making of the film, and the importance of it being a truly Cambodian production.
 
Below are excerpts from John Horn's interview with Faris and Dayton. To hear the full conversation, click on the player above or get The Frame's podcast on iTunes.

Interview Highlights

How Jolie discovered Loung Ung's story while on location in Cambodia:

Jolie: It was my first trip there. ["Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" was] the first big Western film to come in after the war and I read about the country. I realized how little I was taught in school, how little I had been educated. I felt very ignorant. I wanted to learn more. I expected to find a very bitter, dark people and country. I found a resilient, very positive, strong people. And I really wanted to understand. So, I went for a walk and I ended up on a corner and going through books, and thinking "I need to educate myself." The description of the story "Through a Child's Eyes" got my attention, so I bought a little two dollar copy on the corner and sat by myself and read the book.

On making art after the Khmer Rouge regime:

Panh: It's difficult at the beginning because most of our artists are dead. So we have nothing. After the Khmer Rouge, we had five masters of dance survive, one or two film directors - you come back and everyone's disappeared. So we need to rebuild it because genocide is not only killing people, but also destroying our identity, your freedom of thinking, your capacity of imagination. You keep the trauma with you, and it's very difficult to come out of genocide talking about genocide.

On the importance of working with Cambodian artists:

Jolie: I would never have made the film if it wasn't in Cambodia, if Rithy hadn't agreed to do it, if it wasn't with Cambodian actors, if it wasn't in [Khmer] - that was the whole reason to make this film. To give this country a chance to speak. And if they weren't ready, then we wouldn't have made the film.

Panh on working with Jolie as a director:

Panh: It's very important to be with the people [to make this kind of film]. If they go to the rice field, you must go to the rice field. There's no reason for you to stay in a safe place and put people in the rice field. It changes the communication with people, the relationship. I was very touched when I saw Angie go in the line for lunch. I produced many films before, and directors want their private temple, their private place. But Angie just goes with us.

Why Jolie's sons worked on the film:

Jolie: It was very much about family and I think for all of us, we had our family or close friends there. And Maddox is Cambodian. For all my children, this is their family member, [who] is Cambodian. So it was important for all of my children to be on set, to be a part of the project. Yes, I like it when my children have a good work ethic and I like to see them work, but really in truth, I wanted Mad to take this time and understand his country and understand his countrymen, and learn about his history and dedicate himself to really understanding it. And I also wanted him to work alongside his countrymen. We've been working there for 14 years. We have a home there, Mad goes there often. But this was going to be months and very immersed in being side by side, and I think it brought out a deeper understanding and pride that is beautiful to see.



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