A Story of Selective Remembrance: Angkor Awakens at Cornell Cinema

Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia (directed by Prof. Robert Lieberman, physics, M.S. ’65 ) starts with a rush of motion, the camera speeding up a flight of stairs with increasing momentum, panning out to reveal lush hills, stone steps and a vibrant earth that stretches on and on. Ambient music fills the theatre; the screen slips to a red backdrop, with the shadows of traditional dancers gliding about; a voiceover extracted from one of the many interviews speaks, introducing us to an eighty-minute documentary probe into Cambodia. Following independence from France, the Cambodia of the ’60s and ’70s was sucked into the Cold War when its neighbor Vietnam fell into civil chaos, despite efforts to stay neutral. What eventually emerged from the din and struggle for national survival was the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, an extremist Communist group led by Pol Pot, which proceeded to commit one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century, claiming up to two million lives. Angkor Awakens is a poignant, revealing documentary in how it chooses to look at this highly volatile and violent time.