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281st Meeting - Tuesday, December 12th 2006 

'Beyond the Gate'

A talk and DVD video presentation by François Bizot

Present: Michael LaRocca, Heike Löschmann, John Cadet, Edward van Tuyll, Olivier Evrard, Michael Williams, Renee Vines, Hannah Rumble, Richard Bieda, Oliver Hargreave, Patrice Victa, Mathilde Mahon, Ricky Ward, Marc Callermart, Ray Kanlig, Jesse Kus, Carol and Bob Stratton, Peter Schupp, Klaus Berkmüller, Andy Northrop, Jessica Loh, Eva Pascal, Adam Dedman, John Butt, Elizabeth Melchionna, Guy Cardinal, Richard Nelson-Jones, Lorenz Ferrari, Peter Holmston, Diamond, Lae Lae, Klaus Bettenhausen, Malay Chan, Su Mon Aye, David Steane, Valeria Tancred, Tom Fawthrop, Dirk De Guyper, Cathy Harbour, Guillaume Bagneris, Catherine Nesbit, Hans and Saengdao Bänziger, Saw Poe Zaw, Doi Doi, Patrick McGowan, Michael Tuckson, Tony and Supan Kidd, Margaret Deelman, Glynn Morgan, Thomas Ohlson, Bonnie Brereton, Carool Kersten, Robert M. Boer, Sophie Le Creu, Suphak Nosten, Camille Callermart, Eva Leyenne, Mututu, Noreen, Mook Paw, Jay Rabin, Kim Nielsen, Colin Hinshelwood, Katie Wood, Htan Dah, Kalyani McCullough, Hnin Hnin Aye, Nosten, Nancy Eberhardt. An audience of 72.

François Bizot's introduction to the film

I went to Cambodia in 1965 and stayed until 1975, then in Thailand until 1994, then in Laos. It is good to be back in Chiang Mai. "Beyond the Gate", the film I made during the year 2003, is an attempt to relive the past:

- Recent Cambodian history. The film includes footage from 1975 of Phnom Penh as a ghost town deserted by its inhabitants, and rare if not unique footage shot inside the French Embassy when around 3,000 people, foreigners and Cambodians, took refuge from the invading Khmer Rouges army.

- Biodata. I revisited the place where I was detained, perhaps in an attempt to purge the ghosts.

- The past of Douch, the KR officer in charge of the camp where I was imprisoned and later Director of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, where he tortured and killed tens of thousands in the name of an ideology. Towards the end of the film, there is a brief meeting I had with Douch in Tuol Sleng, where he is now in prison awaiting his trial by the war crimes tribunal.

When I was captured in 1971 and taken to the Anlong Veng prison camp, they told me the reason I was detained was "because I was a spy working for the CIA". Douch, the camp KR, interrogated me for 3 months in an attempt to get me to confess. However, rather than beating me, which, as I was to later discover, was the usual way of extracting confessions, he choose to ask me
questions about myself and my work in Cambodia. Eventually, this gave me the opportunity to ask him questions about himself, his background and his thoughts, particularly about the revolution. As a consequence of these interrogation sessions, and conversations that took place more informally, I obliged him to do what a killer should never do - to look at me, to see me, to humanize his victim, and I obliged myself to look at him, to see him, and to humanize my torturer.

As he questioned me he started to see and to know the young guy I was; the father, the researcher, and he eventually decided, because he came to believe me when I said that I was not working for the CIA, that I should not be executed. As I questioned him I looked at my potential executioner and started to see the man, the truth seeker, the young revolutionary, like many others, and not so different than me after all. That realization came as a shock; one from which I have still not recovered. To approach a
monster, to humanize a monster, and at the same time to meet a man.  Douch became my liberator because he was a truth seeker. Once he believed that what I told him - that I was not working for the CIA and that I was who I said I was, was the truth then to have me executed would have been contrary to the fundamental ideals of the revolution.

In "Beyond the Gate", in trying to understand Douch, I do not try to minimise his culpability; everyone is responsible of what they do. Trying to understand is not trying to forgive. This film is also a quest to see beyond Douch and show what we may all be capable of.

After an extended question and answer session, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged François in more informal discussion over drinks and snacks.

Film reviews of 'Beyond the Gate' can be found at:


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