Documentary filmmaker John Pirozzi premiered his long-awaited film, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, this past Saturday, January 11, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is an homage to a musical renaissance that was happening in the 60s and 70s — Cambodian musicians were creating a rich, unique sound all their own, blending Western rock and pop with traditional Khmer folk music. Cambodia’s phrenetic capital was an exciting place to be then, with an active music scene the likes of which the West had never heard before and would not ever again, with the tragic intersection in history with the Vietnam War.
After illegal US bombing destabilized the country, the Khmer Rouge quickly overthrew the country and within a span of just a few years, proceeded to exterminate 2 million Cambodians, a third of the population, one of the worst modern genocides. Artists, musicians and intellectuals were systematically selected to be slaughtered first. Miraculously, a few notable musicians survived and 3 decades later, Pirozzi has been able track them down to preserve their memories of the music and culture both before and during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.
Taking almost a decade to put this documentary together, Pirozzi has combined the interviews with a lot of rare never-before-seen footage into a time capsule of Cambodia’s past that today’s generation of Cambodians barely know about. Chhom Nimol, lead singer of the LA-based Cambodian band, Dengue Fever, attended the world premiere and remarked in the Phnom Penh Post, “Young people don’t know about this story…[Cambodians] have our own style. We don’t need to copy [other countries]. Young people should watch this film and understand and know where this music comes from.”
As a Vietnamese refugee of war, I have always felt a kinship with the Cambodian community. Our two mother countries are inextricably joined and shattered from that period of war, but Americans are only familiar with this country’s involvement with Vietnam, with almost non-existent awareness of Cambodia. While there are no planned screenings after this premiere at this time, I sincerely hope Pirozzi can get the film screened here in the US or have DVDs available in the near future. With this film, we can both remember the victims of the genocide as well as find hope that the golden age and irrepressible spirit of Cambodian rock n roll could not be killed and survives today! Enjoy this post-premiere performance by Nimol with surviving Cambodian legends like Samley Hong from the Baksey and Bayon Band and members of Drakkar.
Nimol returns to LA to perform with her band Dengue Fever in LA this Friday, Jan. 17, at the Federal Bar in Long Beach, which is the opening night of a new music venue, and Friday, Jan. 24 at Largo at the Coronet (sold out). ~ Tom Nguyen