It’s possibile to destroy a country but it’s impossible to destroy its soul.
Music can tell about the soul of a country and this is what happens in Don’t think I’ve forgotten.
I discovered amazing Cambodian’s rock and roll thanks to The Cambodian Space Project, a remarkable music band which “covers and preserves songs from the ‘golden age’ of 60s Cambodian pop but also write their own dazzlingly original Khmer psychedelic rock”. I’ve seen them in Melbourne several times. They are fantastic on stage, able to give the public all the energy Cambodia’s rock and roll has. “They’ve now toured all over the world, from Texas to the End of the Road, but the shows they talk of with most pride are the ones they play in remote villages across Cambodia”.
My new passion for this group brought me to see Don’t think I’ve forgotten at MIFF last year. It has been a touching, remarkable and sad discovery.
Directed by John Pirozzi, the documentary unearths the history of the Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll scene born during the 60s and 70s, a unique genre of music brutally destroyed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime.
“What was happening here was totally unique,” Mr. Pirozzi said. “They figured out a way of bringing in the modern world without losing traditional elements…to create something so unique.” (cambodiadaily).
Cambodian musicians took rock influences from America, England and France and added the unique melodies and hypnotic rhythms of their traditional music. The result was incredible and an entire country was captured by the music. Great musicians apparead and a sense of innovation came over Cambodia… until the country was moving to war.
Suddenly Prince Sihanouk joined forces with the Khmer Rouge and rallied the rural population to take up arms against the government that deposed him. The Cambodian military, with American military support, waged a war that involved a massive aerial bombing campaign on the countryside. In the end, after winning the civil war, the Khmer Rouge turned their deadly focus to the culture of Cambodia.
Under the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975 to 1979, musicians were subjected to the most extreme form of censorship—death. Records were gathered up and destroyed, and the musicians that produced them killed.
“All traces of modernity and Western influence were attacked and wiped out. Intellectuals, artists and musicians were specifically and systematically targeted and eliminated”. (dtifcambodia)
It’s incredible how art and music can frigthen the most brutal tyrants. A country that was swarming about music, intellectual fervour, incredible female vocalists, crawling enthusiasm was victim of one of the most brutal genocides in history, killing an estimated two million people, a quarter of the Cambodian population.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten brings us back to the ’60s and ’70s, when music really reflected the times and Cambodians. Those times are indelible and always will be part of Cambodia’s soul.
Here’s a list of the upcoming screenings around the world.