Don't Think I've Forgotten Documentary Revisits the Roots of Cambodian Rock
Photo still from Don't Think I've Forgotten
There are plenty of rock 'n' roll documentaries that talk about influential times, places and genres of long-gone music, and then there is Don't Think I've Forgotten.
A film that delves deep into the multi-faceted history and eventual eradication of Cambodia's incredible burgeoning rock scene of the 1960s, Don't Think I've Forgotten is a powerful doc that goes beyond the sounds themselves to weave an emotional tale of how important music is to a society and how culture can survive despite grand efforts to destroy it.
Director John Pirozzi spent 10 years interviewing survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge and gathering recordings and rare archival footage of the country's lost surf-rock bands, Santana-inspired guitarists and famous Khmer crooners like Pan Ron, Ros Serey Sothea and Sinn Sisamouth (who remains so famous today, he is often called "Elvis of Cambodia").
"I think people can take music for granted because music is in some way very ephemeral," Pirozzi says. "You can't hold it or taste it or touch it, but it is so powerful at the same time." Don't Think I've Forgotten had its U.S. premiere at the Art Theatre in Long Beach last September during the Cambodia Town Film Festival and began a well-received national theatrical release this April. And though it's already been screened in 50 markets (with 30 more getting it soon), it has yet to make a return to Long Beach, the city with the most Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia and a place that holds the strongest connection to the Cambodian diaspora. That is, until now.
Calling it a series of "encore screenings" for those who may have missed it at CTFF last year, Don't Think I've Forgotten is getting a two-weekend run at the Art Theatre that Pirozzi hopes will attract everyone from people who are ignorant about Cambodian history to the thousands of second-generation Cambodian-Americans who have always called Long Beach home.
"In the U.S. there are a lot of younger Cambodian-Americans where this is their parents' story or their grandparents' story and they're getting insight like they haven't ever before," Pirozzi says. "For young people, all they've heard is a lot of negativity, but to see that this whole other creative world did exist - to see it be flushed out - it's important for them."
Filmmaker John Pirozzi at Phnom Penh's historic Chaktomuk Theater.
With an unprecedented soundtrack of carefully re-mastered Khmer pop and rock hits, Don't Think I've Forgotten is a film built to be watched in a theater. As girls in mod dresses bop around to feel-good psych-rock and tuxedoed men with guitars play instrumental songs like some Cambodian version of The Bel-Aires on the big screen, the story of Cambodia's lost rock 'n' roll scene becomes even more potent when dozens of songs (all of which made their creators enemies of the state) are blasted through the Art Theatre's state-of-the-art sound system in an anti-authoritarian rallying cry from Cambodia's haunted past.
"At first I thought it was a sad story but now I have a new take on it," Pirozzi says. "There's a positive twist: this music has survived and in some ways, it wins in that particular battle. Obviously a lot of people died and the music stopped not moving forward, but ultimately, the Khmer Rouge wasn't successful."
Don't Think I've Forgotten screens on Sat & Sun June 27 & 28 @ 11am, Mon & Tue June 29 & 30 @ 9pm. On Sunday, they will be raffling off Cambodian Music Festival concert tickets, CTFF weekend passes and digital downloads of the films soundtrack.
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