'I wanted to really know what a child felt, what they looked at,' she says of 'First They Killed My Father'

By Joey Nolfi
September 14, 2017 at 12:34 PM EDT

After making her name in Hollywood as a successful actress, Angelina Jolie has used her public position to champion humanitarian causes around the world, and her latest film, First They Killed My Father, appears to be an impassioned blend of the 42-year-old’s big screen talents and dedication to global compassion.

“This film is [told] through the eyes of a child, and [this is not] a traditional film. No mind of a child is traditional and boring,” Jolie says in a just-released featurette for the Netflix feature, based on Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir of the same name, which follows her experience as she matured under the oppressive (and genocidal) Khmer Rouge period in 1970s Cambodia. “I wanted to really know what a child felt, what they looked at, what they focused on. [I wanted to] bring the audience into her mind.”

She continues: “You see the 5-year-old happy child become a 9-year-old victim of war. How can we not be the most concerned about children at war, in every war — the innocent children?”

Ung, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jolie, also appears in the footage, recalling her struggle as a young girl in the region.

“They took away our individuality, they took away our souls, our beliefs,” she remembers. “We are supposedly children of the Khmer Rouge revolution. We were told we were fearless, and we had power. They were teaching us to look at the things around us as weapons. A stick, a knife, an axe, a rock. It was really confusing to have that message [pushed on us], that harm and hurt and hate was good.”

Last weekend, director Rithy Panh, who produced First They Killed My Father, joined Jolie for an in-conversation event at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he lauded her humanity, precision as a director, and her dedication to enlightening world audiences about Cambodian history, noting that he feels she didn’t make the movie “about” Cambodia, but instead “with” Cambodia.

“If he had said no, I’m not sure I would have made the film,” Jolie elaborated on asking Panh to work with her, which he agreed to do after she drafted three hand-written letters addressed to the Cambodian icon. “We talked [about] the intention [and] what the film would mean for Cambodia… it wasn’t about going for drama, it was [about] what is this going to say to people who know nothing about this war, what will this say about Cambodia, and how the war did settle with the people. Whatever we do with these scenes, it’s symbolic.”

First They Killed My Father hits Netflix and a limited number of theaters this Friday. Watch the film’s new making-of featurette above.