Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Year Zero (1979)

John Pilgar’s damning documentary on what happened in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over and almost wiped out the country is still a chilling affair. Also chilling is how, because of politics, aid was slow in getting to the survivors. It’s a sad comment on how doing the right thing morally gets cocked up because it may be the wrong thing politically.

Pilgar’s film originally aired on TV in 1979 not long after Pol Pot and his men were chased out of power. Pilgar was one of the first journalists into the country and what he saw sent shock waves through some circles.

The story goes that because of Nixon’s mad man policy of warfare which resulted in his bombing of neutral Cambodia to teach the Viet Cong a lesson by example, the country was destabilized. After the various factions had finished each other off the only ones left were Pol Pot and his psycho band. They then reset the clock to zero and marched everyone into the country for a forced return to the agrarian past. Families were split, any infraction met with horrific torture and death. The whole country was turned into a charnel house. When Pot’s nonsense threatened to spill over into Viet Nam, the Vietnamese marched in chased him out (kind of).

Pilgar’s documentary was very timely when it was new and it hasn’t really dated at all. Sure the events aren’t quite as fresh in the memory, but there are parallels in recent events else where in the world, one need only think of Rwanda to see some mass killings on a large scale.

Pilger pulls no punches, pointing out how and why bad things happened. He also clearly lays blame as to those responsible for millions more deaths after the fact thanks to a lack of humanitarian aid.

I’m old enough to have followed the events when they happened and while there was some memory of events, mostly I was moved simply by the tale told. This is a story of man kind at its darkest.

You owe it to yourself to track the film down and see how bad things happen…

(Reviews of Pilger's follow up documentaries will follow in 2013)

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