TIFF Review:  First They Killed My Father 

Is there anything that Angelina Jolie cannot do? Apart from being a Hollywood actress, she recently turned a literary memoir that involved the killing of approximately two million people in Cambodia into a film on the big screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

First They Killed My Father is an adaptation of a book by Cambodian writer Loung Ung about her childhood experience of surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide that happened from 1975-1979 in Cambodia.

The film is directed and co-written by Angelina Jolie, and has been recently selected as Cambodia’s Official Entry to the Oscars in the Foreign Film Category. The movie is co-produced by Cambodian author and former Oscar nominee Rithy Panh “I am very happy and very proud,” said Panh. “Because the film is original and powerful. Because thousands of us participated in the film’s making and so, too, in writing a chapter of Cambodia’s collective history. And because this history doesn’t belong only to the Cambodia people; it is universal. Cinema also is a way to talk about the resilience and dignity of human beings.”

This was an emotional film to say the least, but what struck me the most were the visual expressions of the lead child actress, Srey Moch Sareum who had never acted before. Though the film started out slow with minimal dialogue, I soon became connected with this little girl, reminding me of how children across the world crave love and good memories. Sareum’s character, Loung, loved music, dancing, and hugs from her father.

First they killed my father is such a poignant film on many levels. We are living in a world that is full of chaos, disarray, natural disasters and war. We read about war in the newspaper and see images of it on television, but they rarely stay with us. This film portrayed war through the eyes of a young survivor, and as I spoke with others friends after the film, we all found the film stayed with us for hours and even days thereafter.

Telling the story through the eyes of a 5 year old child was truly heart-breaking, but also poses a reality of so many children around the world. We see Luong’s perspective change over the course of 3 years. One cannot imagine the atrocities this child witnesses, from losing her father, her 2 brothers, learning to find food on her own, surviving without family, water, learning to be a child solider, and even holding and shooting a gun properly.

This film will definitely make you question: how can we protect our children, and what can we do to keep them safe, regardless of where they are in the world?

Produced and distributed by Netflix, you can catch it on Netflix as of September 15, 2017.