A mournful history with a positive look ahead, Robert H. Lieberman’s documentary “Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia” tells the tale of a country going through what amounts to an extended post-traumatic stress disorder. For four years between 1975 and ’79, through the Khmer Rouge genocide engineered by Pol Pot in the wake of the Vietnam war and President Nixon’s destructive bombing of Cambodia, it was a nation destroying itself with starvation, ideology and delusional slaughter.
Through taped interviews with citizens of multiple generations, historians and experts, we learn of how difficult it’s been for those who lived through the terror, and the children they’re raising, to deal with its aftermath and the ghostly effect on the populace, which one interviewer terms “broken courage.” Mass killings — including much of the professional/intellectual class — left behind mostly stricken peasants all too willing to sit idly by while strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen locked into place a stabilized but corrupt system of power.
But with the numbers of young people on the rise — half the population is under 25 — and their tech-savvy willingness to share, educate themselves and demonstrate, Lieberman sees a hopeful future. “Angkor Awakens” won’t wow you with artfulness, but as an analytical narrative of tragedy, testimony and a way ahead, it has an undeniable power.
‘Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia’
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena