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Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia (1979)

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John Pilger ...
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30 October 1979 (UK)  »

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Very powerful early documentary
6 May 2007 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

In one of his earlier documentaries, renowned journalist John Pilger looked at the ravaging effect of the Indonesian Khmer Rouge armies invasion of Cambodia, their overthrow by the neighbouring Vietnamese and the inaction of Western governments to help rebuild the country and restore it to democracy.

Pilger focuses a lot on the poverty rampant in Cambodia and the sights of flea-ridden children and adults may be a bit much for some. Pilger also interviews two former Khmer Rouge soldiers and shames and humiliates them for their actions, including mass murder and torture, right in front of the camera. He occasionally over-eggs the documentary with examples of this and some of his footage can be seen to be a little emotionally manipulative and sensationalistic, a charge he has always had to face in his work. Another example of this is when Pilger interviews survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime including some Westerners who have attempted to help the situation.

This is a very good example of Pilger's emotive, provocative style of documentary film-making. His anger at the situation, particularly in his narration and to-camera monologues, is very, very palpable. He is well aware of the political realities that have led to the situation and ends the documentary on a note that very little has been done to help in spite of the attention he and others have drawn to the country's plight.

Now released on DVD, this documentary by a flawed but brilliant journalist is well worth a look today.


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