(for a downloadable version, follow the title link to Vimeo)
Selected Excerpts, links:
“Angkor Awakens” provides an incredibly moving insight into Cambodia past and present. Featuring stunning images (it) paints a picture of hope led by a younger generation hungry for change and willing to stand up to peacefully demand their rights and secure the freedoms that the Cambodian people have for so long been denied.
— Global Witness
"The film pulls a rabbit out of the hat with its extensive interview with strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose reflections on the state of his country as well as his memory of the Khmer Rouge era become a centerpiece of the story.
In the documentary Angkor Awakens, director Robert H. Lieberman condenses the past and present of Cambodia into 90 minutes. From the ruins of Angkor Wat to the Khmer Rouge horror and present-day testimonies, the film highlights the key episodes in the country's cultural and political development."
"Angkor Awakens is a probing, psychological account of Cambodia, an arresting new film that tackles Cambodia’s entangled past unreservedly. It offers a profound insight into a Cambodian psyche fraught with trauma and trepidation (and) tells this tragic story in full, and finds plenty of cause for hope at the end. In one of the film’s most harrowing sections, we are shown footage of land disputes, acid attacks and brutal violence on the streets between ordinary citizens.
In the film’s most striking scene, [Prime Minister of Cambodia] Hun Sen becomes incensed when questioned about this state-sanctioned violence. 'In America when a person is shot by the police … is it Obama doing the shooting?' he asks Lieberman provocatively, moving to the edge of his seat and pointing at the director. 'You say people are doing it under my orders. So how many people has Obama killed like that?'"
Breathtaking glimpses of Cambodia’s rolling rice fields, forests, shorelines, temples and palaces fill the opening sequence of the documentary “Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia”—an attempt to encapsulate the country’s vast scenery in one short sweep. In a similar way, the film tries to wrap the entirety of Cambodia’s complex history into 90 minutes.
Mr. Lieberman’s use of Khmer shadow puppets to illustrate the country’s history brings a unique color to the documentary without trivializing the gravity of the story.
"The director of "Angkor Awakens”, Robert Lieberman, digs into the generational effects of genocide and depicts the future Cambodia with his unique perspective as a child of the Holocaust. I am very honored to be the first Chinese reviewer of the film. As the only Chinese TV correspondent ever based in Cambodia to do an in-depth report on the trial of Khmer Rouge, I have heard over the years so many sad and horrific stories…however, the stories filmed by Robert Lieberman still touched me deeply."
— Susie Deng, Editor-in-Chief, Sina TV News
"Angkor Awakens peels back the modern westernized rhetoric… and does an amazing job in piecing together an often ignored narrative from the many voices and accounts of the Cambodian people who experienced, currently experience and will continue to experience the effects of the 20th century’s chaos. What’s incredible, as the film shows, is how Cambodia is slowly managing to recover from the complete overturning of its culture—that despite the violence, people are able to hope for a better future even through the worst of times."
"Four years in the making… is an ambitious study of Cambodian politics as it operates within the collective psyche, spread across generations...The film takes on the saga of Cambodia’s history for those beyond its borders....For all its exploration of the darkness, Angkor Awakens is not a tragic film.
"In just under 90 minutes, Lieberman’s film covers a great deal of complex history and background on Cambodia, taking in the Vietnam War, Kent State and Nixon and Kissinger…. it’s brave of the film to include Bernie Sanders in debate calling Kissinger on the carpet for war crimes.
The film confronts the anger that drives the new generation, as well as the lack of information and education about the past."
"A psychological analysis of the people…. A usually reluctant subject, Hun Sen agreed to an interview, threw out his prepared answers and had a free-ranging conversation with Lieberman.
The new film follows the international success of Lieberman’s documentary, 'They Call It Myanmar', a 2012 New York Times Critics’ Pick. His current project is an animated feature adapting his 2015 novel 'The Nazis, My Father and Me', being made in Paris with 'The Triplets of Belleville' producer Didier Brunner."
A personal message from Robert:
As a child of the Holocaust, I was initially drawn to Cambodia because I was curious to see if there were any lingering effects of the Khmer Rouge genocide in today’s young people.
I was determined not to make a doom and gloom movie. Rather, I wanted to provide a sweeping portrait of the country, its people and history, its politics and psychology. Of course there was no way to avoid Cambodia’s darkest period.
I got lucky and got a two-hour, eyeball-to-eyeball interview with Hun Sen, Cambodia’s strongman/prime minister who never gives interviews.
Rather than using a crew in Cambodia, I shot the 149 interviews recording the sound by myself and using only available lighting. It allowed people to be comfortable enough to share their most intimate thoughts. My intention is that this be a story of hope and recovery told through the Cambodian people— the young and old, artists and teachers, politicians and just plain ordinary people.
Having lived through the Vietnam war, I was forced to come to grips with Nixon and Kissinger’s secret bombing and incursion into this neutral country that helped set the stage for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. It strikes me that in the present political climate the film has an immediacy that makes the story today as relevant as ever.
Our production team’s hope is that this film will build on the major success of our previous film “They Call It Myanmar.”
Robert H. Lieberman, Director