Angelina Jolie‘s long-awaited Cambodian film premiere was a family affair.
The actress was joined by her children — Maddox, 15, Pax, 13, Zahara, 11, Shiloh, 10, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 8 — at the world premiere of her passion project, First They Killed My Father in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Her sons Maddox, who was born in Cambodia, and Pax were both involved in the film’s production.
Presented at the Terrace of the Elephant in the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, the film was screened to both Hollywood and Cambodian royalty, as the country’s King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk were in attendance, along with a host of senior government officials. Jolie and her family posed for a photo with the royal family at the premiere.
The premiere of First They Killed My Father, was screened in the temple of the elephant terrace, a couple of kilometers from where Jolie shot her breakout 2001 film Tomb Raider. As the heat of the day wore off, local families picnicked along the banks of a nearby lake, while monkeys scavenged the area for scraps of food.
While speaking at the premiere, Jolie referenced her deep connection to Cambodia since it is where her first child, Maddox, is from.
“I cannot find words to express what it means to me that I was entrusted with telling part of the story of this country,” she said. “This film was not made to focus on the horrors of the past but to celebrate the resilience, kindness, and talent of the Cambodian people.
“Most of all, this film is my way of saying thank you to Cambodia,” she continued. “Without Cambodia I may never have become a mother. Part of my heart is and will always be in this country. And part of this country is always with me: Maddox.”
Maddox himself took center stage when he spoke to the audience, saying:
“Thank you, everyone, for attending tonight. We finally made it. It’s a great honor to present this film to all of you, and to stand by my mother and my family. And now I’d like to introduce my little sister Shiloh, as she has something to say.”
Little Shiloh then stepped up to the microphone and told the crowd in Khmer: “My name is Shiloh and I love Cambodia.”
Cheany Nem, 30, from Kampong Cham province came to the premiere with her husband, mother, niece and nephew after hearing that locals could see the film for free. But they were not allowed in because they don’t have an invitation and access was tight due to the attendance of the royal family.
“Me, like a lot of young people, want to know what happened during the Khmer Rouge,” Nem said. “My mum is older so knows the story. I heard from her what happened but I wanted to know for myself.
“When I was young I learned about the Khmer Rouge from school. Learning about it made me feel hurt and that makes me want to come see the movie.”
Rady, who works in Siem Reap, agreed about the importance of seeing the movie.
“My kids don’t know anything about the history,” the 40-year-old said outside the premiere. “It’s very important for the kids — they don’t know about all the killings at the time — so by watching this movie they can learn about the history of Cambodia.”
“Of course it;s hard to talk about what happened, but a movie can say it,” Rady continued. “I hope for the future that our country will teach the youth the history of Cambodia so they know what happened.”
Nem said that Jolie was obviously a big draw for seeing the film but added:
“It’s an important memory for every Khmer person. It’s important for young people to learn about the Khmer Rouge. They want to know”
At the press conference, Jolie said she thinks of Cambodia “like a second home,” adding, “Maddox is happy to be back in his country.”
Based on the autobiography of the same name by Cambodian human-rights activist Loung Ung, a friend of Jolie’s, First They Killed My Father tells the true story of the devastation inflicted on Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge communist party in the 1970s.
“I read Loung’s book many years ago,” Jolie said at the press conference. “It helped to open my eyes to what was going on the world.”
She added, “I wanted to tell the story to through the eyes of the child’s point of view, the love of a family, to show the beauty of the country and understand what Maddox’s parents may have gone through.”
More than two million people, out of a total population of seven million, were killed during the purge, including Ung’s father, mother, and two sisters. “The heart of it is Loung’s story, it’s the story of a war through the eyes of a child, but it is also the story of a country,” Jolie said in a promotional clip for the film.
Jolie used only Cambodian actors, many of whom are the survivors or children of the survivors of the genocide. In addition, Jolie insisted only their native Khmer be spoken throughout the film. Jolie, Ung and the producers hoped the experience of making the film would be cathartic for those who participated.
The actress’s love affair with Cambodia began after she filmed Tomb Raider in the country in 2000. Not long after she was finished with production, she returned to Cambodia as a volunteer for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, for which she is now a special envoy. In 2002, Jolie adopted her first child, Maddox, from a Battambang orphanage.
“He was the one who just called it and said he was ready and that he wanted to work on it, which he did,” Jolie recently told The Guardian of Maddox’s role in the film. “He read the script, helped with notes, and was in the production meetings.”
Jolie’s second-oldest son, Pax, was also involved in the production. In 2015, Jolie told PEOPLE, “Pax is doing a lot of the stills,” adding, “The whole movie is from a child’s point of view.” (See the photos Pax shot above.)
First They Killed My Father will be released globally via Netflix later this year.