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Could “Rock and Roll” Bring Movie Gold?

11/19/2015

Mount Faculty Member Produces Award-Winning Documentary

Mount Saint Vincent faculty members carry out exceptional projects in and outside the classroom. When LinDa Saphan, Assistant Professor of Sociology, isn’t teaching her students, she is working in the film industry—and her debut film, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, was recently named as one of 124 contenders to be considered for the for the 2016 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. The film, which is about the life of Cambodian musicians before and during the Khmer Rouge regime, also earned a nomination for the ABC News VideoSource Award at this year’s International Documentary Association and was awarded the Vijay Mohan Social Change Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival 2015.

“We never expected to go this far,” Dr. Saphan said. “When we made the film, it was about telling an interesting story. The fact that it got into the Film Forum is very exciting, especially since the Film Forum has such high standards. And the fact that The New York Times covered [the film], is beyond expectation—it’s the cherry on top of the cake.”

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is the product of eight years of work by filmmaker—and Dr. Saphan’s husband—John Pirozzi. He worked part-time on the low-budget, independent documentary, along with Dr. Saphan, who is credited as associate producer and head researcher. The film has been shown in more than 40 states, as well as various countries including France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark. It has also been featured at several international film festivals, including the London Film Festival and Rotterdam International Film Festival.

As the documentary’s head researcher, Dr. Saphan used her academic research skills to find and watch remaining archival footage on Cambodian musicians—though many had died, and reels about others had been destroyed. She traveled the world to seek out footage, visiting the INA (Institut National des Archives) in France, as well as archives in the United States, Cambodia, and even Australia. “We used news reels from the U.S., France, and Cambodia, watching anything that could be from the 1950s,” she said. “We looked for footage about families who immigrated. It was a vibrant culture. A major part of the documentary is described through film footage and magazines, which really created a visual richness.”

It was not an easy feat to find all of the people featured in the documentary. Near the end of the filming, the production team thought they had completed all the interviews, but discovered another surviving musician living in Virginia and set off to meet him. “For some musicians, the life experience was too traumatic,” she said. “They didn’t want to be interviewed, and unfortunately by the time we found some of the musicians, they had already passed away. It was a long journey.”

Dr. Saphan was also in charge of all the production teams, as well as coordinating interviews, finding filming locations, seeking period clothes and costumes, and coordinating the makeup, among many other responsibilities as associate producer. “One of the greatest challenges was contacting and connecting with people,” Dr. Saphan said. “The film has three languages and cultures. We filmed in different countries and dealt with many cross-cultural differences. It’s wasn’t just translating words, but translating concepts and ideas—translating what the filmmaker wanted and explaining it to locals.”

According to Dr. Saphan, who was born in Cambodia and survived the genocide along with her family, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten is the first movie that really tries to tell the history of Cambodia since the French protectorate and Cambodian independence. “It is really important because every time you think of Cambodia, you think of the Khmer Rouge. You think of genocide. You think of war and you think of the poor, and you think that’s Cambodia. When you watch this movie, you grasp the idea of what genocide is, and you understand what the Khmer Rouge took away from us. They took away the music, they took the way the culture, and they took away our diversity through the lens of the music. But now, for anyone who watches this film, they can learn that Cambodia was modern. There was hype, they were really open to the West, they had modern buildings, modern clothes—they weren’t just savages in an empty village. I think it really gives that to the non-Khmer people.”

To extend her teaching outside the classroom, Dr. Saphan took more than 100 Mount students studying sociology, history, psychology, and fine arts, among other majors to the Film Forum in Manhattan’s West Village, to attend the documentary’s New York City theater release. The screening, which was hosted last April, let students learn about Dr. Saphan’s research, the history, music, and culture of Cambodia, and they were proud to see their Mount professor give the film’s introductory speech.

“I think it gave them a lot of validation, and I’m really proud that they got to go to the show,” she said. “My own personal history relates to many Mount students’. I’m the daughter of an immigrant, and when I was in college I worked 50 hours per week. Their story and their struggles are also mine. For them to see that you can achieve, and that you can be successful is a wonderful feeling, and I wanted to tell them that. You can be whatever you want. You just need hard work and passion.”

For more information about the film, please visit: www.dtifcambodia.com.