Call for Submissions: The Cinema of Rithy Panh

The Cinema of Rithy Panh (tentative title)

Rithy Panh¹s cinematic project offers a sustained meditation on genocide, with nearly every one of his films addressing to some degree the horror that befell his native Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. At the same time, his examination of the Cambodian genocide is not limited to its attendant phenomena of war, displacement, dehumanization, and loss, though these themes are fundamental. Instead, the central premise of this volume is that genocide in Panh¹s work is at once the object of study and the catalyst for explorations of themes occasioned by, but that also surpass, the brutal reign of Democratic Kampuchea. Among these, we find reflections on rites and rituals, legality and governance, human rights, colonialism, global capitalism, and sexual exploitation, to name but a few. Moreover, as a cinematic art, Panh¹s work explores the intersection of aesthetics and violence, ethics, and memory, encouraging discussion of framing and editing, the mise-en-scène of voice and testimony, the use of visual archives and animation, and the visual and narrative establishment of point-of-view (e.g., of the victim, perpetrator, or autobiographical subject). We hope to account for Rithy Panh¹s work as a direct confrontation with the Cambodian genocide and its causes, but also as a creative exploration of the continuation of life in its aftermath.

The author of such films as S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell, The Missing Picture, and nearly twenty other documentaries, feature films, film adaptations, and audio-visual productions, Rithy Panh has garnered international recognition and numerous awards. He has been in competition for the Palme d¹or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for best foreign film. He has won the Un certain regard at Cannes, a Lumière for best documentary, and awards at film festivals in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Torino, and at the International Human Rights Festival in Nurenberg. In 2013, Panh was named the Asian filmmaker of the year at the Pusan International Film Festival. He is also a producer, contributing to the filmic endeavors of others in Cambodia, including the Franco-Cambodian documentary filmmaker, Davy Chou, and Angelina Jolie, who has recently released an adaption of Luong Ung¹s First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. In addition to his cinematic work, in 2006 Panh opened the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, a site devoted to recovering and preserving the images and sounds of Cambodia¹s past and to training the next generation of Cambodian filmmakers and archivists.

No monograph or edited volume to date has surveyed the work of Rithy Panh. The proposed volume not only fills this gap in research, but also contributes to scholarly debates on documentary film, the cinema of genocide, Cambodian history, and contemporary (transnational) Cambodian culture and society. In this volume, we seek to account for the conceptual, thematic, historical, and aesthetic richness of Panh¹s layered and ongoing engagement with genocide. We envision a multidisciplinary examination of his work, with contributions from scholars working in a range of relevant disciplines, including Southeast Asian studies, anthropology, history, legal studies, postcolonial studies, and film studies. We are aiming for a volume that combines analyses of the style and narrative content of Panh¹s films with essays that position his films as a lens through which to study, for example, religion, community, and political violence in Cambodia, past and present, from specific (inter)disciplinary perspectives.

We encourage contributors to follow one of these approaches and to reflect on the ways in which Rithy Panh¹s work looks at and beyond genocide. In addition to those listed above, topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

-Khmer mythology

-Khmer rouge propaganda/ideological practices

-Revolution and civil war


-History, trauma, and the ethics of documentary cinema

-Displacement and exploitation

-French colonialism/American imperialism

-Buddhism and religious identity (including burial rituals)

-filming of perpetrators

-Family, gender, and society during/in the wake of political violence

-Urban development and decay; rural life and its practices

-Cultural heritage and preservation

-Visual language and cultural/historical inquiry (e.g., photography, architecture, dance)

-Memory and the archive (including reflections on the mission and work of the Bophana Center)

-Techniques for Œimagining¹ the past, individual and collective memory, etc.

-Cinematic technique: style, mediation, the photographic image, framing, montage, sound/voiceover/music, animation, realism versus invention, fiction/documentary, techniques of narration, modes of interpellation of viewers, etc.


Site 2 (1989)

Les Gens de la rizière (1994)

Bophana, une tragédie cambodgienne (1996)

Un soir après la guerre (1998)

La terre des âmes errantes (2000)

Que la barque se brise, que la jonque s¹ouvre (2001)

S21, la machine de mort khmère rouge (2003)

Les Gens d¹Angkor (2003)

Les Artistes du théâtre brulé (2005)

Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise (2007)

Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (2008)

Gibier d¹élevage (2011)

Duch, le Maître des forges de l¹enfer (2012)

L¹Image manquante (2013)

La France est notre patrie (2015)

Exile (2016)

We ask that contributions include:

-a 250-300-word abstract for a 6,000-word essay

-a brief biography (app. 75 words) plus a list of publications relevant to proposed essay

Timeframe: Abstracts due to us May 15, 2018 for drafts of essays due Summer 2019.

Accessing films: Many of Rithy¹s films are available on dvd in American or French versions. Some are not. In such cases, we the editors may be able to provide some limited-time vimeo versions (most with English subtitles) thanks to the generosity of the Bophana Center.

Please send queries to:

Leslie Barnes ( and Joseph Mai (

Image credit: Exil, Rithy Panh 2016

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