This afternoon, I went to see a screening of John Pirozzi's documentary "Don't Think I've Forgotten", which tells the story of Cambodian rock'n'roll in the '60s and '70s. Through archive footage and interviews, the film does an amazing job of conveying the exuberance of the Cambodian music scene after independence, showing how the young Khmer musicians adopted Western music and adapted it to create their own style, charged with all the same energy but uniquely Cambodian. It's an intensely moving film, because even as it shows the optimism of those early years, you always know what's coming next.
The film focuses on the music and the musicians – Sinn Sissamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Yol Aularong, Pen Ran and more – but it makes good use of newsreel archives and commentary by historian David Chandler to provide context. It even includes a devastatingly poignant sequence in which former US ambassador John Gunther Dean reads Sisowath Sirik Matak's famous letter.
I knew much of the music from the Cambodian Rocks compilations, and through performances by contemporary bands such as Cambodian Space Project and Dengue Fever. I knew much of the history from reading Chandler and William Shawcross. But the film gave a much fuller context for what I knew and it made the stories of the musicians vastly more real, sometimes almost unbearably so.
"Don't Think I've Forgotten" is a first-rate documentary that tells a story that is both fascinating and tragic. It's due for general release in spring 2015: go and see it.