The survival of Ancient Southeast Asian culture is explored in Dancing Through Death: the Monkey, Magic & Madness of Cambodia. Produced and directed by Janet Gardner, it is the story of Thavro Phim a Cambodian dancer, who came of age under the Pol Pot regime and lost his father, brother and grandfather during the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge. Thavro's dedication to Cambodian Classical dance and to his role as the magical white monkey kept him whole during the ordeal. Current controversy in Cambodia over whether to try Khmer Rouge leaders heightens interest in "Dancing Through Death."
A resident of the United States since 1993, Thavro returned to Cambodia in 1998 for a bittersweet reunion with his family and teachers. The film follows him on that journey.
The centuries-old traditional Cambodian dances tell mystical stories of good and evil, with bejeweled princes, princesses, giants and monkeys as the principal figures. Cambodian dancers had a sacred role in the ancient land. The documentary looks at this cultural history and the ancient empire of Angkor when the Khmer ruled most of Southeast Asia. It takes its audience to 1975-1979 and conveys the preciousness of the dancers who survived the country's maelstrom. It tells of the transmission of a culture from generation to generation, mourning for what was lost and celebrating the dance that has survived in the midst of death, displacement, and turmoil.