What's shocking is that this was thirty years ago. I was completely unprepared for how fresh it was in people's lives, and how real the pain was.
The three people in the film who survived the prison were all very willing to participate. They had to share their stories, and their pain. And what was really striking and moving was that each time they went back to the prison it was so painfully real for them. It wasn't recalling an emotion. As soon as they were there they were living it again. It was coming from a really fresh memory. And what's shocking is that this was thirty years ago. I was completely unprepared for how fresh it was in people's lives, and how real the pain was.
You frame the film with the faces of ordinary people on the street, some wary, some smiling. What was your intention with that?
Wherever we were while making the film, whether we were walking into a marketplace or driving in the car, you felt this really powerful fear everywhere. There's a look of sort of trepidation. The fear from thirty years ago is still a part of life in Cambodia, even now. I noticed it from the first moments we were there. But when you looked someone in the eye and communicated that you weren't there to hurt them or rip them off, people immediately responded with such kindness.
Through the whole filming, I struggled with how much cruelty was in the story, and how much pain there was in people's lives. I was really searching for a way to find something that would give the story a little hope. And in the final interviews with everyone we talked to, it was difficult finding that. So we decided to echo the photos from the 1970s and do our own portraits of people on the street, in the marketplaces and the ghettos all over the city.
Some of the people were looking sort of dead serious at the camera, and they don't break at all. But there's still a little sparkle in people's eyes. And that was just a way of getting back to humanity, and of echoing what the one survivor says in the film at the end, to remind us of how precious life is.