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Time For Justice

Focus Group Report for Film 1

written by Kiri Roat
23 May 2007

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Summary of findings
6 areas of Cambodia
25 focus groups
200 people

97% (194 of 200) say film is “very interesting”

92% (184 of 200) say film encourages them to talk more about Pol Pot era
91% (182 of 200) “love” the portrayed family’s performance

83% (166 of 200) want same family in second film
78% (81 of 104) of younger participants learn new information

96% (100 of 104) of the younger participants say KR doubts “more or less cleared”
75% (120 of 160) of provincial participants favour more documentary material

No Phnom Penh participants groups raise documentary issue

Documentary issue aside, no significant differences in reaction area to area
No one feels first film will cause social disruption or violence
98% (196 of 200) want to see second film

97% (194 of 200) prefer to see second film immediately
53% (106 of 200) know about forthcoming Khmer Rouge trial

79% (161 of 200) hope second film features who’s on trial and possible punishments  

Feedback from Focus Groups for Module 1
  • Ms. Kim An Arun, Moderator
  • Ms. Sok Sopheach, Moderator
  • Mr. Sok Kunthy, Note taker
  • Ms. Kiri Roat, Note taker and report writer

Dates: 25.04.2007 to 15.05.2007


  • To explore the effect of the first film on Cambodians
  • To check for significant differences in reaction area to area
  • To find out if Cambodians learn new information from the film
  • To probe if the film raises interest in the forthcoming trials
  • To discover if the film encourages discussion about KR regime and trials
  • To help inform the style/format/substance of the second film
  • To help inform the decision about how to show the series of films

To meet the objectives, this report sets out to give participants’ reactions to ten key questions:

  • Is the film and its format interesting to participants and does it stimulate interest in the forthcoming KR trials?
  • Is it an effective vehicle to create group discussions in participants’ communities about the KR and the trial?
  • Should the format with the same characters continue into the next film(s)?
  • Should there be more documentary material in the first film? 
  • Do participants learn anything new from the film (if so, which groups)? Or does the film only refresh what people already know?
  • For those whose memories are only refreshed is the film less interesting?
  • If younger participants (who had not lived through the KR regime) previously doubted the fact of KR atrocities, does the film help to allay their doubts?
  • Does the first film make people want to see the second film (about the how the ECCC and trials will work)?
  • If yes, do participants want to see the second film immediately after seeing the first film, or are they prepared to wait?
  • Will showing the film in certain areas of Cambodia create anger and possible social disturbance, particularly in former Khmer Rouge strongholds?

The moderator guide sheet showing the actual questions put to the Focus Groups is attached as an Appendix.


Geographic spread:
Six areas were selected to test the film on a wide range of Cambodians across the country - cities, town, villages - in areas known as former Khmer Rouge “strongholds” (Kampot, Pailin) as well as areas whose populations suffered particularly badly under the regime (Phnom Penh, Kratie) and more non-specific areas (Svay Rieng, Kompong Thom).

  • Kampot (district)
  • Svay Rieng
  • Pailin (district)
  • Kratie
  • Kompong Thom
  • Phnom Penh

Originally, 4 groups of 8 people each (with varied education and occupations) were selected randomly in the 6 areas. The original plan envisaged a sample of 192 people spread across a total of 24 groups. The groups, all of mixed gender, 4 males and 4 females, were separated into the following age brackets:

- Group 1: Age 12-18 (children with no experience of KR regime)
- Group 2: Age 19-32 (young adults with no experience of KR regime)
- Group 3: Age 39-45 (adults who were children under KR regime)
- Group 4: Age 46 and over (adults who were adults under KR regime)

(In Phnom Penh, our first Group 2 consisted entirely of students aged 19 to 24.  Therefore, we organised another Group 2 with a wider occupation and age spread. In writing this report we took into account the views of both groups. Thus the sample became 25 groups with a total of 200 people.).

Data Collection:
We conducted different age-groups separately in order that participants who had lived through Pol Pot would not influence the views of those who had not experienced the KR regime (or had experienced it as children).  After an introduction and brief explanation about the purpose of the sessions, the moderators showed the film to participants. Then participants, mostly seated in a semi-circle, were asked the questions in turn. The questions had been prepared in advance (see Appendix) but sometimes the moderators had to probe the answers to get participants to understand and to elicit answers, particularly at the beginning of the discussions. After a while. usually at least half an hour, the questioning developed into discussions. On average, the sessions lasted two hours each. All team members, including the note takers, observed participants' reactions and body language.  

The provincial groups were conducted in villager's houses or any houses which were convenient for participants. The houses were comfortable and quiet although they a bit small. In Phnom Penh, all sessions were held at the KMF offices. Throughout, the atmosphere at the sessions was cooperative and friendly even though two of them were conducted in previous Khmer Rouge strongholds.

Key Answers and Findings

  1. Is the film and its format interesting to participants and, in particular, does it stimulate interest in the forthcoming trials?

Participants recognised that the film is in a new format, different from other films they have seen about the KR regime.  Though the subject is painfully real to them, participants realised the film is a narrative fictional story, the main aim of which is not to irritate or embarrass people who, as Pol Pot soldiers or low-ranking officers, may have committed KR crimes.

As such, the film was greatly appreciated by a big majority of respondents – whether or not viewing in former Khmer Rouge strongholds.

97% (194 of 200) of all participants said the film was very interesting to them. It was not only about the history of Cambodia; it also reminded them of their own pasts. It made many feel as if the regime “happened yesterday”.

95% (99 of 104) of young adults and children said the film was very interesting to them. They felt like they had listened to their grandparents, or parents narrating the Khmer Rouge story to them.  Moreover, they wanted to know how life used to be then; they wanted to understand the pain during that time and wondered what KR did to people. In addition, they wanted to compare this story with what their elders have told them.

The film mentioned the forthcoming Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which just over half already knew about – 53% (106 of 200). Many participants said that, after watching the first film (and possibly the second film), they might start to discuss the forthcoming trials in their communities. Thus, the news would spread around, which might help to push the Khmer Rouge Tribunal process faster. Apart from that, some in the younger groups stated that the film could be used as material to spread information about Cambodian history from 1975 to 1979 from educated to non-educated people.

Some participants, particularly from the younger groups, thought this film was a bit short compared it with other material about the KR regime they had already seen or read. Though a lot happened in this film, it did not mention all the points in detail.

41% (82 of 200) of all groups said it was the right length. The film was succinct so they could follow and understand it well. No one thought the film was too long.


  • "This film is good because it makes me know how Pol Pot treated people. I think it's a true story, similar to what my parents told me." Kampot female student, 16
  • "This film is ok for me. If it's too long it makes me bored and loses some information." Kompong Thom male student, 21
  • "This film reminds me the pain I experienced during Pol Pot regime." 

Phnom Penh housewife, 60

  • "This film provides correct information in all aspects." Pailin farmer, 45
  • "It’s interesting because it makes me want to watch and to learn about the history of Pol Pot regime."  Svay Rieng male student, 12
  1. Is the film an effective vehicle to create group discussions in participants’ communities about the KR and the trial?

92% (184 of 200) of all participants said the film would encourage them to talk more about what happened to Cambodia during the Pol Pot era. Adults particularly would now talk among themselves in their communities. Most adults believed this story of KR would help them to educate their children to “try to study and to understand”, to “do only good and proper things” and to “avoid creating troubles to society”. Those young adults and teenagers would then talk to their friends about what they had learned from the story. They might then feel obliged to share this story with their siblings and might ask their parents for clarification in case they missed anything or wondered. Parents could then fill in their gap or queries.  

At first, 13% (14 of 104) of the young participants said they did not want to talk about the film to their relatives or friends. They thought this would provoke pain and nightmare for those who experienced that era. While expressing interest in the story about KR regime, some said they wanted to let go the past and look to the future. That is why they did not want to discuss this matter with their families.  On moderator probing, some changed their minds and said they would discuss it with anyone who was interested in the subject. They had been afraid to pass on false information because they were not knowledgeable about this issue, though some of their parents had told them about this.

96% (192 of 200) of all participants said that, after watching the film, they looked forward to the trials and wondered who would be accused.
Some believed “justice would prove that crime didn’t pay”.


  • "I will tell my friends about rice was exported abroad and lovely temples were used as target trainings." Kampot female hairdresser, 20
  • “We’ll tell our children more about KR regime when we come back home.” 

                   Pailin male tailor, 49

  • "I will discuss with my neighbours to compare the present regime to Pol Pot regime." Phnom Penh housewife, 52
  • "When I  come back home, I want to find out more from my parents whether the story of Pol Pot regime is true or not." Kratie boatman, 22
  • "We will tell it to those who don't know about it to be aware of it and those who know little about it to know better." Kompong Thom female student, 15

  1. Should the format with the same fictional characters continue into the next film(s)?

83% (166 of 200) of participants wanted to see the same family continue its journey in the second film. This family was the one to start the story; they should be the one to finish it. If a new family or characters continued the journey, audiences would get confused. But several – 14% (28 of 200) – volunteered that they would like to see more family members or other people involved in the second film. 

15% (30 of 200) did not want the same family. They would like to see another family because this tragedy had not happened to one particular family but to many other families.

91% (182 of 200) appreciated or “loved” the portrayed family’s performance in the film. No one disliked it.


  • "The family's acting is good. They tell the story well." Kratie male teacher, 27
  • "I want more actors so as to have more stories and more information. Children would want to see new and hear new as well." Kompong Thom farmer, 53
  • "The family makes me feel like it is a real family."  Phnom Penh female seller, 45
  • "I want to see this family to end the story." Kampot male student, 12
  1. Should there be more documentary material in the first film?

75% (120 of 160) of provincial participants (ex-Phnom Penh) said they would prefer more documentary material in this film. Nevertheless, a big majority of the groups thought the format was a “clever way to tell the story” (through a fictional family and particularly through fictional children). However, it was only after a few provincial participants raised the documentary issue that other participants started to agree with the suggestion. Once the subject was raised, participants did not change their minds even though the moderators probed on this subject (i.e. lack of availability of relevant documentary material).

No participants in the Phnom Penh groups raised the issue voluntarily. Even when probed they were not much interested in documentary material.

Most provincial adult groups believed that, with more documentary material, their children would be even more interested in this film because they could witness and understand their parents or elders' KR experiences. Moreover, this film was about Cambodian history during 1975-1979; therefore, proof or evidence needed to be included.

However, even without more documentary material, a big majority of participants were impressed with the story and asked questions about incidents the film portrayed.


  • "Some pictures illustration or images of actions in Pol Pot era would make the story look better." Svay Rieng male metal worker, 42
  • “The film as it stands will probably make young people ask more questions about those who experienced that regime.” Kampot housewife, 41
  • “I’ll switch to another channel if there’s no real actions including in this film.” Kompong Thom male student, 13
  • "It would be good to see the documentary footage about what the actors have mentioned in the film." Kampot female student, 17
  • "Some children might be interested when seeing the film with more real actions.” Kratie housewive, 40
  1. Do participants learn anything new from the film (if so, which groups)? Or does the film only refresh what people already know?

78% (81 of 104) of the younger participants said they learned some new information from the film. Many in the two older age groups said they did not learn much new. New information for these older participants was Cambodian-grown  rice being sent abroad and temples being used for target practice. Nearly all the adults agreed that the film effectively refreshed their memories.


  • "I’m going to tell the story from this film to my own children – like the cruelty, hardship during the regime and the tribunal, which I now believe and I didn’t know before." Kratie female student, 20
  • I’ve read quite a few books about KR but some information in the film seem new to me.” Kampot male student, 22
  • ''Though I've already learned something about KR, this film add me some new information." Phnom Penh male student, 19
  1. For those whose memories are only refreshed is the film less interesting?  

30% (29 of 96) of the adult groups said they had almost forgotten what happened. The film made them feel like the KR regime “happened yesterday”. Therefore there was no reason this film was less interesting to them. Although their memories were only refreshed, the film still “played its magic” on them.

No participants complained about the lack of new information in the film. Just by refreshing their knowledge/memory they thought the film had done a useful job. A big majority thought the film was impressive and enjoyable. By not watching a documentary film, they felt they had been learning at the same time as being entertained.


  • "This film makes me want to discuss more about KR although there's new information." Phnom Penh taxi driver, 39
  • "I don't care if this film adds me new information or not as long as it's about KR." Kampot male hospital worker, 42
  1. If younger participants (who had not lived through the KR regime) previously doubted the fact of KR atrocities, does the film help to allay their doubts?

96% (100 of 104) of the younger participants (who had not experienced the KR regime) said that the film more or less cleared their doubts about the crimes. It was like an assurance about what parents or elders usually narrated to them. They never entirely believed all the stories of those so-called punishments and mass deaths. But this film, together with other evidence, helped to lift their doubts and disbeliefs. 

This film would help them and other young Khmers to believe the bitter history of Cambodia they had heard about. They could also be far more aware of what their grandparents, parents and other people have suffered and how they struggled to survive that regime. Even if children did not believe, they could now ask their parents or elders about what happened with confidence.

92% (88 of 96) of older participants (who had experienced the KR regime) believed the film could be used as effective proof about what they had told their disbelieving children. Even those provincial adult participants (who said that more documentary material should be included) believed their children would use the film (as is) as a springboard for confirmation – though it would be better in this respect with more documentary material.


  • "I want to see if the story is the same to what older people used to tell me.”

       Svay Rieng saleswoman, 20

  • "My children used to ask me about the Pol Pot regime. As they watch this film, I am sure they would ask me more about it." Kratie married woman, 56
  • "This film briefly gives out information on KR regime, which I've never learned such information, so when I watch it I'm so touch." Phnom Penh male student, 19
  1. Does the first film make people want to see the second film about how the ECCC and trials will work?

98% (196 of 200) of all participants felt that this first film made them – and would make people in general - want to see the second film.

But most of participants seemed to be confused with the question.

79% (161 of 200) said they expected (and wanted) the second film to be about who would be in the forthcoming trial and what punishment KR leaders would receive. They also wanted to know exactly when and where the trial will be held.

It was only after moderator probing that some participants said that, in the second film, they would like to learn about how the ECCC works and how the trials will work.


  • “I’m keen to see the second film because of the father’s  cliff-hanger.”

Phnom Penh building worker, 38

  • "Yes, I really want to see how the fairness of the court works."

      Kampot married women, 23  

  • "I want to actually see the trial and the real aspect of the trial because I've only heard of it on radio for a long time. I want to know the truth behind the story."

Kompong Thom farmer, 50

  1. If they want to see the second film, do they want to see it immediately after seeing the first film or are they prepared to wait?

97% (194 of 200) of participants preferred to see the second film immediately. Many felt that, if they had to wait, they – and other viewers - might lose interest in it or they might forget to make a date and miss the film. However, if they had to wait, say a month, until they saw the second film, they would be prepared to do so.

After moderator probing, a sizeable number of participants felt it might be a good idea to split showing the films providing the gap was less than a week.

But it would be best of all to show them together.

Many felt, though, that if they were shown together, there should be a good break between the films to enable discussions about the content of the first, then content of the second.


  • "If the first film shows on Monday, I'd like to see the second film on Tuesday the same week, I don't want to wait longer than Friday." Phnom Penh housewife, 36
  • "I'm so busy with my study so I want to see the second film soon."

      Kampot male student, 20

  • "We're afraid we might forget the showing time if we have to wait too long."

      Pailin male seller, 44

  1. Will showing the film in certain areas of Cambodia create anger and possible social disturbance, particularly in former Khmer Rouge strongholds?

15% (14 of 96) older participants expressed the view that the film made them feel angry and “bad”. But, whatever they felt, it was the past.

They believed that they themselves could not do anything: the trial was the best way to solve problem - not anger. Nearly all the adult participants talked about traumatic feeling of losing their relatives. Though the KR regime ended nearly thirty years ago, they still bore pain and grief for those they lost. Many were still “haunted” by the nightmare of their own experiences.

During discussions in both over-45 y.o. groups conducted in previous KR strongholds, several participants expressed regret and sorrow for what they themselves did during the regime. Our team did not notice that tension with other participants was raised during these “confessions”.

Although this film might raise some bad/angry feeling, it revealed the truth. So showing it to the public would not bring violence: most people these days now had some education and believed in justice.

The two adult groups in Pailin felt that the film would be unlikely to create social disturbance  even though it made them feel as if the regime had just happened; even though people might be resentful by thinking that life should not have been that cruel. Even participants who were self-confessed former members of the KR were not afraid of being charged in the trials. They believed in law and justice. The trials only referred to KR senior leaders and those most responsible.


  • "We don't feel annoyed or embarrassed at all, even we heard of the information of the KR trials from this film." Pailin male seller, 44
  • "I want to know more about the actual regime though I was a former Khmer Rouge." Pailin village chief, 60
  • "There will be no social disturbance to former KR army because this film is about education and reminds people not to forget our history only."

Kampot male village volunteer, 51

Moderators’ impressions about FG participants

Most of the adult participants, many young adults and some children appeared touched by the film.

Some were on the verge of tears when we began to ask questions.

Most adults wanted to incorporate their past experiences into their answers. Sometimes we had to interrupt them not to stray to far from our questions.

While some provincial young adults and children were reluctant in to answer our questions at first (they seemed not to know what we wanted from them), in the end they said they appreciated the chance to see the film and participate in the Focus Group exercise.

Nearly all said they looked forward to seeing the film, and the others, on television    
(even suggesting which TV should broadcast the films).

We could see that nearly everyone is caught up in the film and it seems from their answers and the discussions that there’s a good chance it will cause viewers across the country to discuss the Khmer Rouge and the trials openly.

Even children, at least those from 12 to 18 year old groups, who do not at present have good knowledge about the Pol Pot regime, are likely to use the film to start talking about KR among their friends and family.

Aside from the differences of opinion over the documentary issue between the provinces and Phnom Penh, we saw no other major variations of opinion about the film from area to area.

Time for Justice” Focus Groups (Module 1)

Moderator guide sheet : Questions to be put to all Focus Groups

  • What was this film trying to tell you?
  • Was the film interesting or boring? (If boring you, which parts?) Was the film/ story too long or too short?
  • Will the film encourage you to talk about what happened to Cambodia in the Pol Pot era? (ADULTS ONLY: particularly to your children?)
  • Is it good for Cambodia that this type of film is shown to all Cambodians? (Yes, why? No, why not)?
  • Will showing this film raise any bad/angry feeling in your neighbourhood? (How bad/angry? Why? Why not?)
  • If yes, should it still be shown in your neighbourhood?
  • Did the family in the film tell you the story of the Pol Pot era effectively? Or is it missing anything?
  • STATEMENT FROM MODERATORS: you will soon be shown another film, this time about the trial. Are you looking forward to seeing that film? (Yes, why? No, why not?)
  • If you had to wait a few weeks until you saw the second film, would you still be interested to see it? (Would you prefer to see it immediately?)
  • Would you like to see the family you saw in the first film in the second film? (Yes, why? No, why not?)
  • ADULT ONLY: What effect do you think the film will have on your children? (FOLLOW UP: are you be happy for your children to learn about Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge and trial through these type of film?)
  • SUPPLEMENTARY: Did you think the family in the film was a real family?
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