Short Films of Women Directors Speak of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence during the Khmer Rouge Era

Filmmakers discuss with the audience during the Women Film Fest held at Meta House in Phnom Penh. Photo: John Dylan Tolentino Rubis

PHNOM PENH — The Cambodian-German Cultural Center, known as Meta House, is hosting the Women Film Fest, featuring short stories and dramas set during the Khmer Rouge era and speaking of the regime’s impact on women.

Under the theme “SPEAK OUT, SISTERS!​ (S0S), the Meta House presents, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, nine long and short films, dramas, and documentaries that were directed by Cambodian women filmmakers.

The stories speak of sexual and gender-based violence, and the importance of knowing about such actions that were the daily reality for most Cambodian women during the Pol Pot regime of 1975 to 1979.

People gather at Meta House on Feb. 1 for the screening of a film during the Women Film Fest. Photo: Speak Out Sisters Facebook

Emilia Emminghaus, one of the festival organizers, said that the festival selected the films with the goal of promoting women empowerment by showing what women faced during the regime, and also to highlight the achievements of women in the film industry.

“Meta House does not only hold the women film festival for screening the films but also works on other projects that discuss the roles of women in Cambodia, aiming to promote gender equality,” Emminghaus said during an interview on Feb. 1.   

"It's a really important topic,” she said. “There needs to be equality between male and female. We have to talk about what happened during the Khmer Rouge regime in relations to what happens nowadays—about what problems women have.

“It's important to have women discussing these issues, so that's the aim of the festival,” Emminghaus said.  

Ongoing screening and experience-sharing sessions

The two films presented in the evening on Feb. 1 were directed by Sothea Ines who obtained in 2014 an international award for her 7-minute short film “Rice,” which is set in a children's camp during the regime.

The second film is “Rachana/Viplas” released in 2019. The 110-minute drama talks about a female artist who grew up in a family that was strongly affected by the genocide. The artist is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

On Feb. 2, Kulikar Sotho—who is the first Cambodian woman to direct a feature film since Ung Kanthouk directed “10,000 Regrets” during 1970s—will present her 106-minute film “The Last Reel,” which was her debut as a director in 2014.

The film tells some dark secrets of teenager Sophoun’s parents during the regime, which were revealed to the teenager at a screening in an abandoned cinema of an old film starring her mother.  

On Feb. 3 and 4, the films “Girl Empowerment Through Education,” “Stop Domestic Violence!” and short documentaries will be presented.

The festival includes presentations of the films before the screenings, and question-and-answer talks with the directors after each film. All films are shown in Khmer language with English subtitles.

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