Documentary Pieces Together Cambodia’s Missing Musical History

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In 1975 the Khmer Rouge regime instigated the infamous Year Zero policy, intent on destroying all remnants of the prevailing culture and traditions and replacing them with “revolutionary culture.”

Much of the evidence of Cambodia’s pop and rock music scene disappeared without trace, but now after a decade of painstaking research, American documentary maker John Pirozzi  has pieced together a thorough history of the musical movement of the 1960s and early 70s—“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll.”

A mix of archival and restored footage, along with often-harrowing interviews, the documentary introduces many younger Cambodian’s to a musical tradition, they never knew existed, and highlights Cambodia’s place in the global rock-n-roll trend. Early screenings of “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” have been met with tears and sobbing, as generations of Cambodians are reminded of the all-pervading destruction wrought by the Khmer Rouge regime.

“The Khmer Rouge understood the value of the artists and their connection to the larger public, says Pirozzi, “[Artists are] the voice of the people. You can’t control them, so you eliminate them.”

The filmmaker was assisted in his research efforts by Youk Chhang a genocide researcher at the of Documentation Center Of Cambodia, who later became an executive producer on the project, “This is a completely different way to tell the history than about prison, about killing, about tribunals,” says Chhang. “It restores the missing part of us, the identity of who we are.”

The “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” soundtrack features 20 original, unremixed recordings, carefully restored from exceptionally rare vinyl copies. Influences of French, Latin and American pop can be heard throughout.

“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll,” opens at Film Forum in Manhattan on April 22.

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Rebecca Adams

Rebecca Adams is a New Zealander living in Panama City. She has visited more than 35 countries around the world and is actively working to up that number.