Ferryman of Memories: The Films of Rithy Panh

Rutgers Univ. Mar. 2023. 270p. ISBN 9781978814646. $34.95. FILM
Boyle (media studies, the New School; Subject To Change) focuses on Cambodian documentary director/screenwriter Rithy Panh, who has published five books, produced 20 feature films, established a film center in Cambodia, and been acclaimed worldwide. When the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime took control of Cambodia in 1975, for the next four years, all but one of Panh’s family members died in forced labor camps. Eventually reaching Paris, Panh enrolled in France’s premiere film school. Documentaries offered a way to give meaning to the dead and survivors. In 1989, his first documentary, Site 2, won the Grand Prix at the Amiens International Film Festival. In 1994, his Rice People documentary was the first Cambodian film submitted for consideration for an Oscar, and 2013’s The Missing Picture snagged a nomination. Panh’s scripting is poetic, and his technique is revolutionary; he takes a single-focus camera and shoots close, using people he happened to zoom in on in place of professionals. He lets them speak for themselves and mixes live, clay-and-stick figures to recreate a damaged past. This book examines each film, folding them into the narrative of Panh’s life.
VERDICT An admirable book that will likely increase visibility of Panh’s remarkable films.
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