5th Annual Cambodia Town Film Festival this September 15-17!


by Tom Nguyen

When I lived in Long Beach, the Cambodia Town community was home to me. As fellow refugees & exiles from illegal US war & Communism, we’d suffered so much trauma…the Khmer worse than us Viets as they suffered genocide. Almost all their culture bearers were singled out for execution. Despite genocide, exile, racism, poverty, deportation & other obstacles, the largest Cambodian diaspora community outside Cambodia endures & thrives, still unseen and under-acknowledged in our immigrant LA tapestry.

This is why I always attend the annual Cambodia Town Film Festival (CTFF), which runs this Friday, September 15th through Sunday, September 17th, at the Art Theatre Long Beach. The festival is such a rare opportunity to see Khmer film and it’s a celebration of a people and community who exemplify the enduring human spirit against all odds. This 5th annual festival features a lot of special screenings, like the opening film “First They Killed My Father”, directed by Angelina Jolie, to the first ever all Cambodian-American stand-up comedy show, Khmers of Comedy.

The festival kicks off Friday night with a party at Sophy’s Restaurant and then the opening ceremony starts on Saturday morning at 11am, followed by “First They Killed My Father”, which is based on the book of the same name, written by author Loung Un about her experience as a child during the Khmer Rouge regime. She will be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. Continue Reading →

Cambodia meets Mali: Dengue Fever and Tinariwen at the Fonda Theatre

Story and Photos by Ruth Tesfai

I first remember hearing about Tinariwen when I was studying abroad in London. My friend was raving about them and was upset that he couldn’t get tickets to their show. I was curious but didn’t bother checking them out until 3 years later. I remember thinking, “I’ll probably regret this.” And I did. Because they’re good…REALLY GOOD. And so began my love affair with Malian music. It’s similar but different. Foreign but familiar. In what seemed like divine intervention, they performed live in my city a couple months later. It was an incredible night. Their music truly transcends time and space – it’s a spiritual experience. Hassan’s energy on stage is pure joy. Abdullah’s skills on the guitar, fire. And you can’t forget their percussionist, Said. His drumming moved everyone into a trance! Though that night was perfect,  the band was missing their lead and founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib. He chose to stay back home for the U.S. tour for undisclosed reasons. I was bummed but wished him well and hoped he would rejoin them for a future tour. Continue Reading →

14 Rappers, 14 Countries for UNICEF: Where are the Women MCs?

FRAME
by Tom Nguyen

Dear San E and UNICEF,

I was excited to discover your music video #HIPHOPISHIPHOP – Hip Hop for the World bringing together 14 rappers from 14 countries to express the unifying love of hip hop. I love that this video was made in the tradition of the iconic song We Are The World, to bring light on an important global issue: children’s access to education. Except for the venerable KRS-One, I love that I didn’t know any of the rappers. Thanks for giving talented rappers around the world a chance to shine!

Now, I ask…where are the women? I was quickly disappointed to see that out of 14 rappers, there was only one woman, YACKO from Indonesia. Why does this bother me? While every rapper in that video is talented and deserving and I applaud each of them, I have so many reasons for why this gender imbalance in your video upsets me.

Hip hop has historically been a very unfriendly and unfair place for women and it still remains so. Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are big problems in hip hop songs, lyrics and culture. I’m afraid your video only reinforces the exclusion of women in hip hop. If We Are The World had better inclusion of women in 1985, I’m sure we can do better in 2015.

Since you are using hip hop as a platform for children’s education and your own statistics show that girls suffer greater disadvantage and exclusion from education in so many parts of the world, wouldn’t you have wanted to represent more women as role models? If you had included more women cyphers, I think your message would have been much more powerful and inspiring in your quest for gender equality in education.

After all, you released this video during Women’s History Month and right before International Women’s Day. I think you squandered a very good opportunity to not only address the inequality of access to education, but to also give strength to the message that the ones most affected by that inequality are girls around the world. You could have shown young girls everywhere that they have the same right and ability to succeed in any male-dominated space.

However, I have faith in an organization that is doing so much to achieve gender equality. We’re far from achieving equal human rights and opportunities for one half of the world’s population and it’s critical to keep empowering girls and women worldwide. There are no lack of girls and women on the front lines of society fighting for equality and freedom every day in every part of the world, and hip hop is no exception. In many countries, just being female, queer or trans in male-dominated hip hop is defiant and revolutionary. Below are just 14 of so many countless talented female, queer and trans rappers (in alphabetical order) who are not only rapping but doing so by challenging the status quo and giving voice to marginalized communities around the world. I hope you’ll consider them in a second hip hop video.

Respectfully,
Tom Nguyen

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Cambodia Town Film Festival this Weekend Sep. 5-7!

ctff red carpet
by Tom Nguyen

I just attended the private filmmaker reception last night at Thunder Studios, an intimate pre-kickoff to the 2nd Annual Cambodia Town Film Festival, running this weekend at the Art Theatre Long Beach. In just its second year, the ambitious film festival returns with an eclectic lineup of films, celebrating Khmer cinema both here and abroad.

The reception was an opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers and the festival founders Caylee So and PraCh Ly took time to thank their team and sponsors, without whose support the film festival would not be possible. Many supporters, like singer Bochan, had flown from faraway to attend this weekend’s festival, featuring cinema you’re not likely to see anywhere else!

Tonight Friday, you can attend the official kickoff party at Sophy’s Restaurant, well known for its Cambodian cuisine. The organizers have transformed the interior of the restaurant into a jungle and members of Intradevi and others will be performing and spinning great music. Rumany and her electro-Khmer band, with their elaborate costuming and over-the-top stage presence, stole the show at the recent inaugural Cambodian Music Festival.

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Cambodian Music Festival premieres Aug. 3! Interview with Founder Seak Smith


by Tom Nguyen

This Sunday, August 3, is a historic first Cambodian Music Festival at Ford Theatres that is signalling a great blossoming and coming-of-age for the Cambodian community not only here in Los Angeles but across the nation and the world. What started out as one woman on a mission of self-discovery has turned into a first of its kind music festival that is resonating with the Cambodian global diaspora. Seak Smith, founder of the festival, talked to us about the inspiration and significance of this festival and the amazing eclectic lineup of artists. Read our interview below and don’t miss out on this spectacular festival this Sunday because the next one won’t be in LA!

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Film of Cambodia’s Lost Golden Age of Rock n Roll Finally Premieres!


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.

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