Learn More About Cambodia Through These 6 Films

Whether you are traveling from home, curious about Cambodia, or preparing for your next trip, I hope that these six films will open your eyes and mind to a fascinating and beautiful country.

Film is such a bountiful universe full of exciting new ideas, discoveries, and passions. It is also a useful educational and anthropological tool for learning about different places and cultures. That is why I am providing Jetset readers with a watchlist to learn more about Cambodia so that you are well-prepared for your eye-opening, once in a lifetime trip.

First They Killed My Father (2017)

This film is heartbreaking, yet beautifully made. First They Killed My Father is directed by Angelina Jolie and based on a memoir by Jolie and Luoung Ung. It follows a young girl during the Cambodian Civil War who was forced to leave her home along with her family to work in labor camps and as a child soldier. Throughout the film, Ung fights for survival in the camp’s harsh conditions and bears witness to countless atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. The fate of her and her family is heart wrenching, so be prepared for a tearjerker film. While you watch the film, it is important to remember that Ung’s story is based on a true story and is the story of many Cambodians.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (2014)

Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll
PHOTO musicfilmweb.com

Music is key to understanding history, especially in Cambodia. This documentary displays the exuberant rock scene of the 1950-1970s, up until the Khmer Rouge. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, you can sense the excitement and emotion in the music of this time period. This documentary is also a good resource for learning more about the Khmer Rouge and its grave effects on artists during the time. After watching the documentary, spend some time listening to the music from this era. Jetset has got you covered on that end. Our recent article on Cambodian Rock also includes a playlist of rock music from this time period. Download the playlist for your plane ride and enjoy!

A River Changes Course (2012)

A River Changes Course Doc Still from: The Hollywood Reporter
PHOTO The Hollywood Reporter

Director Kalyanee Mam’s film, A River Changes Course, shows the rapid deforestation, displacement, and environmental degradation that is taking over  rural Cambodia. Documentaries like this are crucial these days, since many people don’t know the details of how economic development can negatively affect those living already there. The documentary also brings up a common dilemma in Cambodia that the director herself has experienced, whether to leave home to make better wages or do what you can to survive where you are. It is a widespread problem with no easy solution. The cinematography of this documentary will also make you fall in love with the Cambodian rural landscape and give you the urge to do everything you can to protect it and its people.

The Killing Fields (1984)

This is probably the most famous blockbuster film about Cambodia and it was the first major film in the West to portray the genocide. Therefore, this makes The Killing Fields a must-see if you want to understand more about Cambodia’s history through film. The movie is also critically acclaimed and won three Oscars. It follows two journalists, one Cambodian and one American and when one of them goes missing during the civil war, the other does everything he can to find his whereabouts. What I love about this movie is that it also shows you famous sites in Cambodia that you can still see today. It also gives an interesting perspective of journalists’ experience during the Khmer Rouge.

Diamond Island (2017)

This sweet coming of age film showcases a group of friends on Diamond Island near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The developing landscape of Diamond Island is paralleled with the main character, Bora, who is also going through a lot of changes, good and bad. Throughout the film Bora meets new friends in the city and learns how to balance the relationships in his life.

If you are curious to know more about the urban and youthful lifestyle in Phnom Penh, then I would highly recommend this movie. 

Poppy Goes to Hollywood (2016)

This lighthearted comedy gives you a glimpse into the drag world of Phnom Penh. In this film, a young delinquent is forced to work for his brother, a drag club owner, after being chased down by a deadly gang. In order to disguise himself from the gang, the drag queens change his name to Poppy and force him to learn the trade. While Cambodia is fairly conservative and not completely accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, they still have a huge drag club scene. What is so wonderful about this movie is that the director, Sok Visal, aims to shed positive light onto the LGBTQ+ community in Cambodia. If you are looking to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community before your trip while sneaking in a good laugh, this is the film for you.

Vivian Bauer


Vivian is passionate about everything related to music, art, and language. When traveling, she loves to walk for miles, try all kinds of food, and visit every museum. She has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil while hoping to one day travel to Mongolia and East Timor.

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