Angelina Jolie in Cambodia for Khmer Rouge genocide movie

Angelina Jolie-Pitt in Cambodia to make movie on Khmer Rouge genocide which killed two million people

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Angelina Jolie (3rd L) attends a panel during the Cambodia International Film Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on December 5, 2015

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie-Pitt is further cementing her ties with Cambodia - directing a feature length film based on Loung Ung's harrowing memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide, in which two million people were killed.

Jolie-Pitt, who with husband Brad Pitt adopted her eldest child Maddox from the Southeast Asian nation, filmed Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia in 2001 and also serves as president of the Honorary Committee of the Cambodia International Film Festival.

On Saturday, she told a Phnom Penh audience how grateful she was to be working again in the country, calling it the "greatest experience" of her film career.

Speaking to several hundred people at the Chaktomuk Theatre on a steamy late afternoon, Jolie-Pitt - who is in the middle of directing First They Killed My Father -- spoke candidly during a panel discussion, which also featured veteran Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh and two younger Cambodian filmmakers.

"I'm fortunate in that I love what I do, my children are healthy and I'm blessed to be able to tell stories and I'm having the greatest experience I've ever had on a film, being able to work on something I care so deeply about, and also because of my husband, who's over there," she said, pointing to Hollywood actor Brad Pitt who was seated at the back of the auditorium.

But Jolie-Pitt -- clad in a black top and skirt -- also spoke with great conviction about the importance of art and culture in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, saying she believed the country has developed an impressive archive of documentaries and feature films.

Given that the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge were intent on ridding Cambodia of much of its cultural heritage -- from poets to singers, actors and artists -- "I think that says everything about art and culture" and its importance, Jolie-Pitt said.

"I think we've all been affected by art," she added. "Some piece of music, film, story, has directed our life and the way we live our life -- every single person."

Jolie-Pitt has a 1,000-strong Cambodian crew working on her film, and praised their professionalism during the talk.

"It's a dream," she said of being able to work in Cambodia again. Outside of her work as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jolie-Pitt has spoken in depth about the effects of landmines in Cambodia and also brought added appeal to Cambodia's pre-Angkorian temple of Ta Prohm, which featured prominently the Lara Croft 2001 blockbuster.

"I had a very different artistic experience then, because I was acting, but I've spent over a decade working and coming back and forth and wanted so much to really be here and to make a film about this country, the history, and not about war, but about the resilience, the strength and family."

First They Killed My Father is a memoir written by Loung Ung, which recounts her and her family's experiences under the Khmer Rouge.

Jolie said making the film has been important to her for a number of reasons, not least because she wants her oldest son Maddox, whom she adopted in Cambodia in 2002, to learn "about his country".

The six-day Cambodia International Film Festival opened Friday.

First They Killed My Father will be released in English and Khmer next year, and submitted to major film festivals around the world.

Pitt and Jolie-Pitt are parents to six children: Maddox, 14; Pax, 11; Zahara, 10; Shiloh, 9; and twins Vivienne and Knox, 7.