Angelina Jolie Pitt visited to prepare for her upcoming film First They Killed My Father and further her charity work in the country
It’s the country that changed her life, so Cambodia will always be a special place for Angelina Jolie Pitt.
The star and special envoy to the UN Refugee Agency returned to Cambodia – where she filmed her breakout role in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and adopted her son Maddox in 2002 – to check in on her two charitable organizations and begin production on her next directorial effort.
Over the next several months, the director will begin filming an adaptation of former child soldier Loung Ung’s book First They Killed My Father on location in Cambodia. The memoir details Ung’s memories of growing up under the Khmer Rouge regime’s genocide in the 1970s, which left 1.7 million people dead.
Jolie Pitt wrote the screenplay with Ung, having developed a close friendship with the author after reading her book.
“The intent of this project is not to revisit the horrors of the war but to bring to the screen characters that people around the world will identify with and empathize with, and help to teach people about this country that I love and respect, and the Cambodian culture and family life I so admire,” Jolie Pitt told local newspaper In Phnom Penh.
“The film will be shot from the child’s perspective,” she said, adding that it will be made with locals, featuring a “Cambodian cast and crew and in the Cambodian language.”
Pre-production is expected to last until November, as Jolie Pitt plans to research the events detailed in Ung’s novel to ensure the film is historically accurate. Shooting is currently scheduled from November to January.
“Because Loung was so young during this time, we will be working with the Bophana Center and other historians and speaking with many people who went through the war to make sure the events in the film are depicted correctly,” she explained.
In the above photograph, obtained exclusively by PEOPLE, Jolie Pitt is reviewing historical footage of the reign of the Khmer Rouge with Rithy Panh, who is assisting with the production.
Jolie Pitt is also enlisting the help of her oldest son, Maddox, 13, in the production. “Maddox will be on set every day after school and involved behind the scenes,” she confirmed to the Associated Press.
While visiting the country, Jolie Pitt also updated the progress of two of her longest-running charities, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation and the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, both of which she is hoping will be run one day by her son.
The MJP Foundation, now in its 12th year of operation, helps nearly 7,000 people living in Samlout, a remote, post-conflict area of Cambodia. By last year, they had treated more than 64,000 medical cases.
The foundation focuses on women and family issues including maternal health, education, and athletics. In fact, during her visit, Jolie Pitt “played with children enjoying the new sports field, the first in the community.”
In addition, the foundation also serves as a conservation organization, aiming to help protect the rainforests and the various species of elephants, leopards and other animals who inhabit those grounds.
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Jolie Pitt also visited the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, which focuses on helping children affected by HIV. Located in a suburb of Phnom Penh, the center helps kids who are HIV-positive, are living in a family with an HIV-positive relative, or have been orphaned due to the disease.
They’re offered medical, educational, psychological, social, and nutritional support.
The program pioneered educational activities “focused on helping children to make up time lost in school due to illness or a parent’s illness and are also focused on enrichment activities, horseback riding, dance and music.”
Calling her trip a success, Jolie Pitt told the local paper, “I hope to be led by the people of Cambodia to tell their story in the best way possible. So I look forward to people coming forward to help me further understand what they feel it is important to tell.
• Reporting by MARY GREEN