‘Funan’: A Son Illustrates his Mother’s Memories ✮✮✮✮

“Funan, le peuple nouveau” (“Funan, the New People” or simply “Funan”) is a family story that resonates on a deeply personal level that gives another side of the Vietnam War. Paris-born director Denis Do won the Cristal for Feature Film at this year’s Annecy International Festival of Animated Films and last weekend was awarded the jury’s Grand Prize  and the Audience Award at the Animation Is Film Festival in Hollywood where “Funan” ((Belgium/France/Cambodia) made its North American premiere. 

The Funan Empire was the start of Cambodian history (50 AD to 550 AD) and that was followed by Khmer (802-1431) after the Chenla, and others before it became a protectorate of France (1863) and then briefly independent (1953) to the battle ground of what was the Vietnam War (US bombed Cambodia from 1969-1973).  When the US installed the Khmer Republic, the former king supported the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge came to power and terrorism became a way of life. 

Do’s “Funan” is inspired by his mother’s personal story and takes place during the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia. There’s a brief breezy period before the chaos comes. A young couple are happily watching their young son grow, but when the Khmer Rouge takes over (April 1975) the mother and father are deported to the re-programming camps and the four-year-old son is taken away.

What follows may seem both foreign and yet tragically familiar. This is the story of one family and of many, of one country’s troubled past and yet a story that might be repeated now and today in other countries. This is a refugee story of the past beautifully told and realized in animation, making it easier to translate/dub in many different languages and easier to consume by filtering out the stark harsh reality of the flesh.

Previously Do had been a set designer, layout artist and storyboard artist. “Funan” is Do’s first feature film as director and writer. “Funan” will be released in France in March of 2019.

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