At the Women in the World Canada Summit in Toronto on Monday, Angelina Jolie and Loung Ung discussed their new film, First The Killed My Father, based Ung’s bestselling memoir of the same name. Jolie directed the movie, which is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film, which made it’s world premiere earlier this month, has been winning rave reviews from critics and standing ovations from audiences.
Speaking with Women in the World founder Tina Brown, Jolie went into detail about the emotional toll of making a film dealing with such heavy subject matter. “We had therapists on set to help talk people through it,” Jolie said. “It wasn’t just making a film. It was recreating a horror on the land with the people it really happened to.” The movie, which was shot on location, centers on a horrible atrocity that took place in Cambodia during the mid-1970s. Two million Cambodian minorities were slaughtered in a mass genocide carried out by the Communist Kmher Rouge regime.
Ung, who was a young girl at the time, saw her entire family — her mother and father, her sisters and 20 other relatives — murdered. She was orphaned but alive. Years later, she wrote about the ordeal her memoir First They Killed My Father, which became a bestseller. The book made its way into the hands of Angelina Jolie. She was so moved by Ung’s telling of her story that she reached out to Ung. The two met and struck up a friendship, and eventually co-wrote the screenplay adapted from Ung’s book.
At one point in the conversation, Ung talked about how lucky she felt to have made it out of Cambodia as a child without being killed or maimed by a land mine. Parts of the country were littered with land mines and there is a scene in the film, which was shown to the Women in the World audience, in which several children are blown up after stepping on a mine. Ung discussed the horrors of surviving a land mine.
Jolie went on to talk about telling a tragic story through a child’s point of view and how doing so informed the portrayal of Ung as a survivor — and how it reflects the relationship between herself and her own children. “My children teach me. I am raised by my children,” Jolie said. “They teach me everything everyday. I look at the world through their eyes, and I am better for it. And so this film is very much through a child’s eyes.”
The conversation also touched on working with a young child actor who portrayed Ung as a little girl and whether or not she was aware of the true horrors of what victims and survivors of the genocide suffered.
Watch video of the complete panel and highlights below.
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