The Flute Player is a one-hour documentary film about the life and work of Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond. Arn was just a boy when Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge military regime took power in 1975. For four long years, Arn followed the strict orders of the Khmer Rouge — doing whatever it took to save his own life amidst torture, murder, starvation and brainwashing. While imprisoned in a labor camp, Arn participated in the execution of others in order to survive, and he played propaganda songs on his flute for his captors’ entertainment.
Arn was later forced by the Khmer Rouge to fight against the Vietnamese when they invaded Cambodia in 1979. After seeing his friends killed on the front lines, he escaped to the jungle, eventually finding his way to a Thai refugee camp. Two years later, an American refugee worker adopted Arn and brought him to the United States. At the approximate age of 16, Arn was living in rural New Hampshire, struggling to rebuild what was left of his shattered life.
In an effort to reconcile with his past and to prevent future atrocities, Arn set out, flute in hand, to awaken the world to Cambodia’s holocaust. Accolades like the Amnesty International Human Rights Award, however, could not heal his broken heart and tortured mind.
Today at the age of 38, Arn has taken his very tragic past and turned it into something inspirational. He is striving to heal the deep scars of Pol Pot’s genocide by bringing Cambodia’s once outlawed traditional music back to his people. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of Cambodia’s Master Musicians (the trained professionals) were killed or starved to death during the Killing Fields and the ensuing Vietnamese occupation. As the few surviving traditional Master Musicians grow old and fall ill, a way of life quietly sits on the brink of extinction.
From Lowell, Massachusetts to the back streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, The Flute Player follows Arn as he brings Cambodia’s remaining Master Musicians back to their craft, and encourages Cambodian American kids to write songs about their lives and mesh hip-hop with traditional Cambodian music. Throughout this journey across generations, continents and cultures, Arn confronts his own life, lived in the shadow of a painful past.
Arn Chorn-Pond’s story provides insight about the specific ways in which the past continues to influence the lives of refugees living in the United States today by illuminating and probing some of the most critical issues of our time: What does war do to the psyche of individual survivors? What steps can a country and its people take to rebuild after experiencing profound destruction? Why is the preservation of culture important to personal identity and survival? The Flute Player explores these questions as it tells a riveting and enlightening story about hope, healing and the will to survive in the aftermath of war.