Angelina Jolie in Cambodia to showcase Khmer Rouge film

Cambodian workers preparing a big screen for the upcoming opening ceremony of US director-actress Angelina Jolie's film First They Killed My Father at the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on Feb 17, 2017.
Cambodian workers preparing a big screen for the upcoming opening ceremony of US director-actress Angelina Jolie's film First They Killed My Father at the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on Feb 17, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

SIEM REAP (AFP) - Angelina Jolie will unveil her new film on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge era on Saturday (Feb 18) at the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, a country which the star shares a deep affinity with through her adopted son Maddox.

Cambodia's king and survivors of the communist regime will be among some 1,500 people invited to the debut screening of "First They Killed My Father", directed by Jolie and based on the memoirs of Loung Ung.

Loung Ung was five years old when the Khmer Rouge swept into Phnom Penh, plunging her family into a harrowing ordeal in brutal labour camps before she eventually escaped to the United States.

In its quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia, the regime killed up to two million Cambodians between 1975-1979 through execution, starvation, and overwork.

"The movie reflects the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime," Sin Chanchhaya, director of Cambodia's Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department, told AFP.

"This is a big deal for us. There is a strong interest among the Cambodian people (for the film)," he added.

It is the second movie the Hollywood actress has made tackling the subject of genocide - in 2011 she made a film about the Bosnian conflict featuring entirely local actors.

But her latest silver screen offering is more personal.

Jolie adopted her first son Maddox from an orphanage in Cambodia's western Battambang province in 2002 and frequently travels to the country. She was awarded Cambodian citizenship by King Norodom Sihamoni.

In an on-set interview with the Guardian published last month, she said it was Maddox, 15, who urged her to make the film.

"He was the one who just called it and said he was ready and that he wanted to work on it, which he did. He read the script, helped with notes, and was in the production meetings," she said.

Because of those who survived and remember the brutal regime, Jolie has been at pains to ensure she treads carefully as a foreigner tackling such a sensitive topic.

"Here everyone has been through it. Everybody is standing 10 feet away from someone else who has been through it," she told the Guardian.

As a result, she pushed to ensure the film would be both made by Cambodians and accessible to them.

Almost the entire film is in the Khmer language while all the cast members and much of the crew were local hires.

The film is also co-produced by Rithy Panh, Cambodia's most acclaimed filmmaker.

He lost almost all his immediate family during the Khmer Rouge years but went on to produce some searing documentaries about the genocide that helped break the silence surrounding what happened.

The premier at Angkor will be followed by screenings across the country, some seven months before the film is released to a global audience on Netflix.

Saturday's premier will be a rare public appearance for Jolie since her high-profile split last year from Brad Pitt.

Togther they had brought up Hollywood's most celebrated family with three of their six children adopted from overseas.

Jolie is expected to hold a press conference on Saturday afternoon alongside author Loung Ung.