POV: You are committed to a variety of humanitarian causes. Which of these have been taking up the greatest deal of your time lately?
Arn Chorn-Pond: The projects that take up most of my time now are the Cambodian Master Performers Project (CMPP), Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development (CVCD), educational films for children, and projects that focus on Cambodian culture like music and dance, shadow puppets and instrument making. And of course I have been spending a lot of time touring with The Flute Player so that I can help to spread the word about Cambodia to a lot of people.
POV: You still travel to Cambodia frequently. Tell us about your recent trips, what you’ve accomplished during them and the people you’ve met.
Chorn-Pond: I split my time now between the U.S. and Cambodia. During my recent trip to Cambodia I met many people who are involved with media, especially television. I have met with human rights organizations and also the Minister of Culture. Things are going very well and I have accomplished a lot with them. They are very responsive to my call for help.
POV: Have you had any further success in locating other surviving master musicians since filming ended?
Chorn-Pond: Yes, I have continued to locate more masters in the countryside with different art skills since the The Flute Player finished. My big challenge is to try to raise money to hire them for our program. Now we have 20 musicians working in seven provinces and the program is getting bigger. We have over 200 students. There are so many more artists who need help, like the shadow puppet groups. We also need to build more instruments.
POV: Tell us about Seasia and the other musical projects you are putting together with young musicians.
Chorn-Pond: Seasia is a music group with three young Cambodian guys I met in Lowell. [Two of them] had never been back to Cambodia. [Editor’s Note: The other one was born in a Thai refugee camp and had never been to Cambodia.] CMPP commissioned them to write a song mixing hip-hop with traditional instruments and they came up with a song called “Hero in My Eyes” that’s really good. Last year we all went to Cambodia together and they performed on stage with a master musician. The crowd went crazy because they never saw anything like that before. In the future we also plan to finish an album mixing hip-hop with Cambodian traditional music instruments and plan to shoot our live educational video like “MTV on Location” in Cambodia and then perform a live concert.
POV: The Flute Player has now been shown widely, and will soon have its national premiere on POV. You’ve also attending screenings and met people who have seen and reacted to the film. Among these experiences, what has been the most memorable event(s) for you?
Chorn-Pond: Since the film road show, the most memorable events were at Museum of Fine Art in Boston, where people gave me a standing ovation for a very long time, and at Lincoln Center in New York at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival where the show was sold out. The last day after the film people also gave us a standing ovation. Another experience that I will never forget was showing The Flute Player in a junior high school in Rhode Island to about 700 kids. Some of them were in tears. A little girl at that school wrote me a memorable letter about how she was going to wait until she grew up to help other people but now she wants to help people right away. During the screening in Lowell, where the second largest Cambodian population [in the U.S.] has settled, many of the audience members responded with so much tears in their eyes and uplifting comments. They [used to chide me], “You are getting old, Arn. Isn’t it time you focused on settling down?” They never understood about my work before. Now I think maybe they understand.
POV: How is your flute playing progressing? What music are you listening to these days?
Chorn-Pond: I listen to music from all different countries, even very spiritual songs from natives all over the world that are not in the mainstream and on the verge of extinction. And I am practicing my flute and other instruments.
POV: What are your thoughts about the war-crime tribunals in Cambodia, and the general political situation in Cambodia?
Chorn-Pond: When I talk about politics it gives me only headache and heartaches. I hope justice will be done to all the parties involved, not only the Khmer Rouge. There are many countries and group who were involved in the Killing Fields, but I don’t like to focus on politics. I want to focus on children’s programs now, so they can laugh and dance and play music.