Rock ’n’ Roll Documentary Has World Premiere in Phnom Penh
By | January 13, 2014

It was a time when Phnom Penh was known as “the pearl of Southeast Asia.” Norodom Sihanouk, an accomplished musician himself, had made the arts a top priority, and music from as far afield as the U.S., France and even Cuba made its mark on Cambodia.

At the world premiere of American filmmaker John Pirozzi’s documentary “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll” on Saturday evening, scores of people crowded into Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Theater to watch the long-anticipated film about this “golden age” of Cambodian pop culture.

“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten” follows the evolution of Cambodian music as young Khmers embraced rock ’n’ roll in the 1960s and early ’70s, growing their hair long, wearing flares and dancing late into the night at venues like the Mekong River Club.

But this liberating period of musical innovation was shortlived. Despite continuing to perform under a curfew imposed during the civil war, when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, and the city emptied, the musicians were scattered to the countryside. Many would never return.

Mr. Pirozzi said there “[wasn’t] a better place on the planet” for the film’s premiere to be held than in the Cambodian capital, the cultural heart of the country.

“The film is an ode to Phnom

Penh, in a way, because the city is such a spiritual center of the country for so many people and so many people have written songs about it that you hear in the film,” Mr. Pirozzi said.

The premiere, which was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, played host to Cambodian rock royalty, including Ouk Sam Art, Touch Seang Tana and Touch Chhattha of Drakkar Band, as well as Hong Samley, a former member of Baksei Cham Krong and a founder of Bayon Band.

The feature-length documentary includes interviews with musicians

who survived the Khmer Rouge and relatives of those who did not. It unearths archival footage of contemporary performances, interspersed with stunning imagery of pre-revolutionary Cambodia and illustrative animations.

The enduring influence of musicians on Cambodian society up until the Khmer Rouge takeover, when many of them were targeted and killed, while others were forced to hide their identity, is brought to life through in-depth interviews and often-amusing anecdotes.

David Chandler, a prominent historian of Cambodia, who features in the film and attended

Saturday’s screening, said the documentary is particularly important because “Cambodians are a nation of musicians.”

Having finished the film just two weeks ago in New York after working on it for nearly a decade, Mr. Pirozzi said he is now deciding where to take it next, but plans to screen it at many of this year’s film festivals.

“I also really hope it opens up more discussion, that more people make films about it [Cambodia’s musical history], that more information comes out about it, that it gets archived properly and there’s a place for people who want to find out more about it to go to,” Mr. Pirozzi said.

“I wanted to get a definitive answer for what happened to these artists, but when I was making the film and interviewing their family and friends I realized that no one knows, so that had to become part of it. It’s part of the tragedy that the sense of closure doesn’t exist,” he added.

Sin Chhan Chhaya, a singer and the son of iconic singer-songwriter Sin Sisamouth, said that at least 30 people had told him that they had traveled with his father and seen him die.

“You can’t die in 30 places all at once,” he said.

One of the last things he remembers Sin Sisamouth telling him before they were separated, Mr. Chhan Chhaya said after the screening, has stayed with him through the years: “Even if I never come back, my voice still remains.”

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Visiting Thai General Tanasak Patimapragorn on Monday assured Cambodia that his country was stable despite a military coup in May, according to Defense Minister Tea Banh.

The National Assembly’s newly formed bipartisan Human Rights Commission met with representatives from the embattled Lor Peang village on Monday, promising a prompt resolution to their 12-year-old dispute over 145 hectares of land in Kompong Chhnang province.

Rights workers on Monday questioned the Defense Ministry’s plan to recruit an additional 700 soldiers to help military police contend with demonstrations in Phnom Penh, saying the proposal raised the risk that excessive force would be used against peaceful protesters.

More than 5,000 workers from a footwear factory in Kompong Cham province went on strike Monday, calling on factory management to increase their benefits.

More than 100 people protested outside the Chbar Ampov district police station Monday calling for the release of a 16-year-old they claimed was denied hospital treatment after being wounded by Vietnamese men accused of attacking a crowd of youths playing football on Sunday evening.

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