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About SOAS

Rithy Panh

Rithy Panh

Rithy Panh is an internationally acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker of both feature and documentary films.

Mr Panh was born in 1964 in Phnom Penh. Like so many of his generation, he lost his father, mother and other members of his immediate family to starvation and overwork as a result of their confinement in Khmer Rouge labour camps.

In 1979, at age 14, he escaped the Khmer Rouge by crossing the Cambodian border into Thailand. He took up residence in France the following year and later graduated from the French National Cinema School in Paris.

He dedicated his first feature film, Rice People, to the memory of his family. Though not explicitly about the country's political upheaval, the film tells the story of a post-Khmer Rouge era family's struggle to survive from the land against the forces of nature. The film was entered into the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, the first time a Cambodian film had been submitted for a Palme D’Or.

Mr Panh's feature-length documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine was released in 2003 and screened at numerous international film festivals, including Cannes. There it won the Prix François Chalais, which honours films 'dedicated to the values of life affirmation and of journalism'. The film is structured around interviews with former prison guards from Phnom Penh’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison, reuniting them with the prisoners who had once been under their watch.

Most recently he has released a feature film adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ novel The Sea Wall.

Mr Panh was able to return to Cambodia in 1990 and now divides his time between residences in Cambodia and France. In Phnom Penh he founded the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, the aim of which is to preserve the country’s film, photographic and audio history. The centre is named after the subject of one of Mr Panh’s early docudramas, Bophana: A Cambodian Tragedy, about a young woman who was tortured and killed at S-21 prison.