“ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE” | co-director, Rob Lemkin
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Sunday, Jan. 24, 9:00 pm — Holiday Village Cinema IV, Park City]
There is a scene toward the end of Enemies of the People where two of our main characters, Suon and Khoun, admit to eating human body parts during the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. I had been aware of this from when I first started filming with them in June 2007.
My problem was this: This was vital information that an audience should know since our film is an up-close and personal account of a terrifyingly brutal episode in recent history. There could be no justification for airbrushing any elements of the horror. Yet the momentum for our film narrative depended on the audience’s connection with Suon and Khoun as men in the grip of forces way beyond their control. Once you knew that they consumed the gall bladders of some of their victims, any sympathy you might feel for these men from time to time through the film would be shattered forever.
By May 2009 as we finished principal photography, Sambath, my co-director, and I had come to a very advanced state of knowledge about the Cambodian genocide and the role of our characters/sources within it. This very precise journalistic knowledge helped us to conceive a scene where Khoun and Suon would take us back at night with only resin torches to the place where the killing finally ended. In the course of that scene they describe the eating of body parts but they also describe how they felt liberated when all of a sudden the order came down from on high to stop the killing.
Many of the preceding scenes had dwelt on Suon and Khoun’s (failed) spiritual quest for some kind of redemption. By putting this scene in the flames and darkness at the end we were able on the one hand to take the audience into the veritable “heart of darkness” in this story while allowing our two killers to rejoin the world of humanity. They are told to stop killing so they can be reunited with their families after the killing fields are over. The humanity at the heart of inhumanity is perhaps the key dramatic tension in our film, and I believe that in the end we got the balance right in this key scene.