Some actors segue to directing to make their show business careers more well-rounded, but for Angelina Jolie, “It was an accident — I wanted to learn more about the War in Yugoslavia” said the Oscar winner referring to her 2011 feature directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey. The actress was present tonight at a Toronto International Film Festival In Conversation With panel.
“I never thought I could make a movie or write one, it was never part of my plan,” said Jolie who’s here at TIFF with two movies: Her Netflix movie First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers about author and human rights activist Loung Ung’s life under the rule of the deadly Khmer Rouge, the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. Her other film is an animated production The Breadwinner which follows an Afghan girl who must disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family.
“For me it wasn’t just about becoming a director,” said Jolie about taking the craft under her belt, “I believe our world is stronger for diversity and I love to learn about cultures and I love to work with artists from other parts of the world. It’s the greatest way to deeply learn and know each other is to create together. In my humanitarian work, I’m passionate about that. They’re my heroes, the people I’m involved with. They’ve taught me to be a better person, a better mother, what to live by, what to value. If I can do films that bring their stories to life, I think those are important stories.”
In addition, regarding First They Killed My Father, Jolie said she made the film for her son Maddox, who she adopted following a UNCHR mission in Cambodia as well as working there during the first Tomb Raider movie. Maddox is credited on the film as an EP. Jolie said she wanted her son to have a perspective of what his birth parents endured.
Jolie was moved by Ung’s book, and it was important for her to be as faithful to the source material, telling the story through the eyes of a child and how her point of view matures from the ages of five to nine in regards to the war in front of her. The film was shot in Cambodian. In addition, she partnered with the country’s most prolific director Rithy Panh who serves as a producer on the movie. “If he said no, I’m not sure I’d made the film. You can’t do that. Together we talked the intention…what the film would mean for Cambodia if we did it this way or that way.”
Jolie screened the film many months ago in Cambodia to great success, even spurring town hall discussions with grandparents talking to their grand children about the genocide that occurred. She even played the film at Olympic Stadium where many of the horrors occurred. “The people who watched it were ex Khmer Rouge, the Royal family, I wasn’t sure of the reaction, but it was a moving experience.”