Resurrecting the Memory of Sinn Sisamouth, the Cambodian Elvis
It's hard to explain to Americans the importance of Sinn Sisamouth, the most prolific singer-songwriter in Cambodian history, who was killed sometime in 1975 by the brutal Khmer Rouge. His silky vocals and poetic verses spent more than 20 years wafting over the cities and countryside of Southeast Asia's oldest kingdom, touching people's emotions and heralding a vibrant Golden era of rock and psychedelic-infused music that is only now beginning to be rebuilt.
He's commonly referred to as the Cambodian Elvis, which explains his popularity level. It also sheds light on how, decades after his last recording was made, both young and old Cambodians can still cite and sing his works, often with tears in their eyes.
"When you're in Cambodia, most people will refer to him like that--as Elvis. His music seems to be a connection piece for Khmers worldwide to their country and that's a strong thread," says Chris Parkhurst, a non-Khmer documentarian currently making a film about Sinn Sisamouth called Elvis of Cambodia. "But maybe Bob Dylan would be a more appropriate icon, Parkhurst suggests. "Imagine if Bob Dylan at the height of success was killed by the government. How would that feel for the people? Sinn Sisamouth is and remains a cultural icon of great magnitude."
Elvis of Cambodia will, for the first time ever, shed light on this massively important and yet elusive character--his life before celebrity status, his family history and the legacy that his music continues to foster--using the limited archival footage, interviews with contemporary musicians and intimate moments snapped with Sisamouth's surviving family members, as well as feature film scenes based on abandoned screenplay about his life.
Originally, the Portland-based videographer and his producer wife traveled to Cambodia on their own dime to capture footage in an attempt to make a brief biographical piece about the singer, who Parkhurst discovered while filming a documentary about unexploded bombs left buried in the country during the Vietnam War.