This video installation recognizes the visit of film-maker Rithy Panh, and is based on the unique collections of photographs and documents from Democratic Kampuchea that were donated to the University of Washington Libraries by journalist Elizabeth Becker. Becker has been a long-time collaborator with Rithy Panh in his efforts to conserve and promote images from Cambodia's past, so that new generations of Cambodians can better understand their history. Rithy Panh founded the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Phnom Penh, named after a young woman who is featured in Elizabeth Becker's 1986 book about Cambodia, and whose story is told in Rithy Panh's film Bophana: A Cambodian Tragedy. The UW Libraries digitized Becker's photographs in order for her to share them with the Bophana Center. Some of those images are also the basis of this installation.
The Installation is the conceptual work of Adrian Alarilla. Adrian is a Seattle-based filmmaker, community organizer, and MA student at the UW Jackson School of International Studies, focusing on Southeast Asian Studies.
Elizabeth Becker is an award winning journalist who worked for the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the Washington Post. She covered the Cambodian Civil War in the 1960s and 1970s for the Washington Post, and was one of only a few journalists from the mainstream western media to visit Democratic Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge. Becker has a BA in South Asian Studies from what is now the Jackson School at the University of Washington. She donated her papers to the school in appreciation for the education she received there. Because her papers and photographs were presented as important evidence at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, she wanted to make them available as a permanent public record.
Her collection in the UW Libraries Special Collections consists of the photographs, notes and documents from that visit in December 1978, just days before the Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge government. One of the three observers on that visit, Malcolm Caldwell, a Professor from the University of London, was murdered during the trip, for reasons that are unclear, but may have to do with his professed support for the Vietnamese government. Becker was one of only two journalists to interview Pol Pot while he was in power. The audio and transcript of that interview, and others with Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, are part of her collections at the UW Libraries. She won an Overseas Press Club citation for her reporting on this 1978 trip.
In 1986 Becker published When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (1986), a political history of the Khmer Rouge period. The book featured a young women called Bophana, a victim of the Khmer Rouge whose file Becker discovered in the then recently released interrogation documents from the infamous Toul Sleng prison. As Becker noted in subsequent article she wrote for the New York Times: “When I unearthed Bophana's file in 1981, my stomach dropped. The dossier was filled with love letters. In the middle of one of the 20th century's worst instances of mass murder, here was a beautiful young woman secretly writing love letters to her husband, knowing full well that in the closed Khmer dictatorship, she would be killed if they were found.” They were found, and both she and her husband were captured, tortured and killed.
Once Becker’s book reached Cambodia and the large expatriate community in Paris, Bophana became a folk heroine, known for the letters and confessions she wrote before her torture and murder by the Khmer Rouge. Her story became even more widely known as a result of Rithy Panh's 1996 film about her.
Images below from the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center
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