The projects

It is with such view in mind that my paper considers the projects ‘We want (u) to know’ and ‘Breaking the silence’. They have many features in common. Both unfold in the context of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Both target the Cambodian rural population. Both seek for reconciliation at the community level. Both have chosen a participatory approach to witnessing.

‘We want (u) to know’ is a participatory documentary movie realised in 2009 by an international film team (e.g. Ella Pugliese, Jens Joester, Judith Strasser) and the inhabitants of the village of Thnol Lok. The team included people involved in filmmaking and visual arts, human rights activists and mental health consultants. The work process was based on two phases: first, the team determined whether the villagers wanted or not to participate in the project; second, the team helped them create the content. The villagers designed, filmed and co-directed the movie. The team members describe themselves as ‘facilitators’ in the process, teaching villagers how to handle video cameras and microphones, organising art workshops (painting, drawing, puppet theatre) as preparatory phase to filming, and giving psychological support. Each evening there was a screening of the filming material made during the day, followed by group discussions on the content and presentation of the material. Since its release ‘We want (u) to know’ has been shown in several venues in Phnom Penh (e.g. Pannasastra University, Metahouse, Bophana, Chenla Theatre) and international festivals and conferences (e.g. Addis Film Festival, Centre for Conflict Studies in Marburg).

‘Breaking the silence’ is a collaboration between the Dutch playwright and dramaturge Annemarie Prins; Amrita Performing Arts, a production company based in Cambodia with United States non-profit status; and Theatre Embassy, a Netherlands-based theatre organisation that initialises theatre projects all over the world, especially in developing countries (Chng Ching Ying 2010, p. 9). ‘Breaking the silence’ was born in 2004 when Fred Frumberg, the executive director of Amrita, invited Annemarie Prins to give a workshop to theatre teachers at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. In 2005, she developed with three Cambodian actresses—she had met there—the play ‘3 years, 8 months, 20 days’. Prins decided to create a performance intended for Cambodians rather than expatriate or international audiences. In 2008, she travelled again to Cambodia with Nan van Houte (currently director of the Frascati Theatre, Amsterdam). The DC-Cam made contact on their behalf with individuals (both victims and former Khmer Rouge) who lived in the provinces and agreed to be interviewed for source material. Back in the Netherlands, Prins wrote the play on the basis of the taped testimonies. The rehearsal started in January 2009 with four actresses (Morm Soky, Kov Sotheary, Chhon Sina, Pok Savanna), a dancer (Kiev Sovannarith), a singer (Yin Vutha) and a musician (Ieng Sakonna) (Chng Ching Ying 2010, pp. 61–64). The group had to give a performance for the minister of culture and other officials. The ministry censored four lines of the text (literal quotes from Khmer Rouge songs). Prins, who thought it was more important to present the play to Cambodians, agreed to the cut (Gottlieb 2009). ‘Breaking the silence’ premiered in Phnom Penh on February 21, 2009. A mobile theatre stage was built so that the play could be presented all over the country. It toured in Cambodia twice, at the end of February 2009 and in November 2009. The second tour was recorded for radio and broadcast by Voice of America on April 18–24, 2010 and a second time on weekends in May 2010 (press release of VOA). ‘Breaking the silence’ has been presented for the first time out of Cambodia (Singapore) in September 2010.