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Fringe Online 2020

Phnom Penh – 40 Years On From The Khmer Rouge

James Fountain

Genre: Film, Fringe Film, Historical, International, True-life

Venue: YouTube

Festival: ,

Low Down

Phnom Penh – 40 Years On From The Khmer Rouge is written, directed, photographed, edited and produced by James Fountain. Translations are by Kimsey and Bunsak Buth, and the music recorded at Studio 60.


James Fountain is known to the poetry world as an award-winner of two fine pamphlets. His debut as filmmaker is very different, equally impressive.

Phnom Penh – 40 Years On From The Khmer Rouge shot in April 2019 commemorates the appalling reign of he Khmer Rouge massacring for psychotic reasons a third of the population of women, men, children. About two of the then seven million (its now about 16).

Fountain engages war journalist Luke Hunt, veteran witness of the wars who speaks with an introductory framing authority.

Its soon apparent the country divides into those who want to know and those who seem to know virtually nothing.

Chum Mey’s a survivor of S-21 Prison a school converted into a torture term. By the time the Vietnamese liberated it, 17,000 had their throats cut and 22 survived. Chum Mey spared because he could repair the typewriters the Khmer Rouge could type confessions of beaten prisoners, returned as witness and guide. 88 last year when this was shot, he remains the last survivor.

There’s a traversal of denials but equally the young as well as old who want to know. Bill Irwin – returning permanently in 2009 – leafs through his extraordinary gallimaufry of perpetrators and victims, and eye-witness accounts, including of those like Brother No. 3 who dies before he can come to trial.


Bee Lay’s one of those immigrants (not originally Cambodian) who’s returned and can witness extraordinary phobias like not wearing glasses to betray intelligence.

The concluding four minutes traverses how Cambodia’s moved on, how the horror is taught, rather like postwar Germany confronting its past, one entirely self-inflicted.

In just on twenty minutes, this documentary, with translations Kimsey and Bunsak Buth, and music recorded at Studio 60, this marks an auspicious, intensely-paced short documentary. Sure-footed, it knows where it’s going which also means Fountain lets the material speak, shapes it with interspersed comments by Hunt and Irwin, and paces it with a grasp of the viewer’s attention but the documentary-maker’s need to communicate matter in short form: it’s saturated in a seemingly relaxed stay that allows what seems an hour of matter to pass in a absorbing flash. Cinematography’s remarkably assured, cleanly-lit, varied in colour and pace. When you see Fountain’s responsible for everything, it marks an extraordinarily assured debut.