An award-winning Cambodian-American movie featuring a classic song by Sinn Sisamouth is bringing hope and reviving memories of the pre-Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia.
The movie, “In the Life of Music”, which features the Sisamouth classic “Champa Battambang”, screened in Virginia on Thursday to a crowded hall of several hundred viewers.
Vanny Nen, a Battambang-born Cambodian-American, said she cried when the song played during the movie. “The film makes me miss my hometown miserably, but it’s a good movie and I liked it.”
Like Nen, Mom Chuon, 60, brought her family along to see the movie.
“Both of my parents were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime,” she said, sobbing. The movie “made me miss my parents so much,” she added.
The movie, shot in Cambodia and produced by a group of Cambodian-American filmmakers in late 2015, uses Sisamouth’s song to connect experiences across generations by telling the story of a young couple who fell in love over a shared passion for music in the pre-Khmer Rouge period, widely considered the golden age of Cambodian music.
Caylee So, one of the directors and producers of the movie, said the song “has a big legacy” and would help to bring generations together as they watched the film.
“Almost all of Sinn Sisamouth's songs, they’re just lived on through the people who have listened to it growing up, and even people who passed it on through the love of his music to their children,” she said.
“And I know from the beginning that that was the song because it remains inside of me for so long and I know that my parents knew it and they have just a great love for that,” she added.
Prach Ly, another producer, said the film was not just about the Khmer Rouge.
“We explained the period even before the Khmer Rouge time. It's related to other things as well, so only those seeing it will understand what the film is about.”
The movie’s protagonist, Hope, is the daughter of the couple at the heart of the film, who seeks to reconnect with her roots by visiting Cambodia in 2007, decades after her parents fled the country for the United States.
Several of those in attendance at the screening said they were not aware of how modern Cambodians lived, so seeing contemporary Cambodia depicted in the film was “a bit strange”, according to Vanny Nen’s husband, So Nen.
“When I heard that a group of Cambodian-Americans were interested in Khmer history and wanted to make a movie for the public to know about Cambodia, I came to see it,” Sothy Heidt, the wife of the former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, William Heidt, told VOA Khmer before the screening. “Especially, the film is not about something bad in Cambodia, but hope and they want to restore the national music that used to be so famous.”
“The song in the film, Champa Battambang, is my favorite,” said Heidt, who also sang the song in Khmer.
Channbunmorl Sou, 33, another audience member, said: “After watching the movie, I was so excited and determined to go live in Cambodia for some time so that I can know my parents' birthplace, which is in Takeo province's Kirivong [district], because I have never been to Cambodia before,” Channbunmorl said. “The film makes me proud of our Cambodian people.”
The movie has been screened across the United States since last year and will be shown at the Cambodian International Film Festival in March.