SIFF Says:Haing S. Ngor (1984’s THE KILLING FIELDS) was a doctor and one of only two nonprofessional actors (the other being THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES’ Harold Russell) to win an Academy Award®. But it was the tragedy between those two achievements that he claimed defined him: “I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am.” Swept up in the Khmer Rouge’s blind fury at the educated classes, Ngor was sent to the countryside to dig ditches, where he suffered horrific torture for such crimes as scrounging a meager basket of vegetables from the surrounding fields. The story of his escape to America, unlikely stardom after being spotted at a wedding by a casting director, and death under still-mysterious circumstances spans half the world and even vaster reversals of fortune; but Arthur Dong’s documentary is all the more touching for being so intimate, down to the simple, understated animation used to illustrate Ngor’s life. The few interview subjects consist of Ngor’s niece and a family friend, while his nephew reads narration taken directly from Dr. Ngor’s own powerful memoir, a book written to ensure the horror his country endured would never be forgotten.
: On the one hand, enough already with the animated reenactments in documentary films. On the other, the brutal irony of Dr. Ngor’s story demands telling, despite obvious visual challenges. This film is neither enjoyable nor uplifting in any sense. Nonetheless, it’s both engaging and enraging, and it feels important. “Important” is art poison, I know. But this is different. This history is so recent that it’s still happening. (SEAN NELSON)
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