Director Rithy Panh Wins Coveted Cannes Film Festival Award

Director Rithy Panh’s latest documentary film “The Missing Picture” was awarded the top prize in the second most important competition at the 66th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.

His 90-minute work on the Khmer Rouge regime—in which he mixed historical footage with scenes reenacted with small clay figures—competed against 17 films from 15 countries for the award. The film premiered in the “Un certain regard” category, which is meant to recognize films with an original aim and aesthetics.

Cambodian director Rithy Panh, sixth from left, at the closing ceremony for the 'Un Certain Regard' category at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. (Festival de Cannes)
Cambodian director Rithy Panh, sixth from left, at the closing ceremony for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. (Festival de Cannes)

In a statement released Saturday night, Danish film director Thomas Vinterberg, who headed the award’s jury, said Mr. Panh’s film was a work of an unforgettable nature.

“One of the finest achievements in filmmaking is to create unforgettable moments, mo­ments that stay with us, as a collective memory, as a collective mi­r­ror of our existence. Clay figures…are just some of the unique images that will stay with us for a long time,” he said.

“This selection was ferociously non-sentimental but poetic none­theless. It was political, highly original, sometimes disturbing, varied, but above all unforgettable.”

In “The Missing Picture,” which premiered at the festival on May 19, Mr. Panh used claymation figures to recreate scenes he recalls from the regime but was unable to find in photo archives. His film has so far prompted complimentary reviews by film critics such as Nigel Andrews who wrote on the Financial Times website Friday that Mr. Panh’s film was “a Cambodian memoir/documentary of force, intelligence and terrible beauty.”

This is Mr. Panh’s first award at Cannes although his films have often been on the festival program.

In 1994, his feature film “Rice People” was part of the festival’s main competition, and in 1998 his feature film “One Evening After the War” competed in the “Un cer­tain regard” category.

Mr. Panh’s documentaries “S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine” and “The Burnt Theatre” were presented out of competition in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

“Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell” on Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who ran Pol Pot’s S-21 torture center, was shown in 2011 in a special screening.

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