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Rithy Panh Talks Oscar-Nominated 'The Missing Picture' (CLIP)

Thompson on Hollywood By Sheerly Avni | Thompson on Hollywood March 19, 2014 at 1:54PM

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh devoted his life and career to the documentation and investigation of the Khmer Rouge -- not just the mass killings themselves but also the ideological fervor that made them possible. All of Panh’s films are personal, but "The Missing Picture," which was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar and arrives in select theaters March 19 and plays Idaho's Treefort Film Festival this weekend, is also autobiographical.

The Missing Picture

Why was that so important to you?

I always try to focus on the individual, on what makes us human. Part of the Khmer Rouge project was not only to destroy individual people, but to destroy the very notion of the individual.

I want to simply rebuild the stories of people – it’s part of my fight against the Khmer Rouge agenda.

In a recent memoir, you speak critically of the concept of “banality of evil” – not necessarily Arendt’s association but the way it has been used. And suggest an alternative section called the banality of good.

I have the impression that people often don’t understand what Arendt is saying. The expression by itself is seductive – it automatically exonerates us.  Evil has always been there, it’s always a part of us, evil is no big surprise. But what about the people who gave freely, who stood up for human dignity?  Even in the most extreme and terrible situations, these acts of dignity existed. And for me that is the banality of good.

There are several powerful moments in The Missing Picture in which you see individual characters standing up for human dignity, and for each other.  And not just characters – your own parents.

It’s important for us survivors to remember we didn’t survive because we were stronger, or braver, or better. We survived because there were other people who with simple gestures -- of love, of sacrifice, of solidarity. And sometimes, they protected us with their lives.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Interviews, Toronto, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Awards, Best Foreign-Language Film, Treefort Film Festival

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.