Daughter From Danang
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by Gail Dolgin & Vicente Franco
color, 81 min, 2002
A heartbreaking documentary that upsets your expectations of happily-ever-afters, Daughter from Danang is a riveting emotional drama of longing, identity, and the personal legacy of war. To all outward appearances, Heidi is the proverbial "all-American girl", hailing from small town Pulaski, Tenn. But her birth name was Mai Thi Hiep. Born in Danang, Vietnam in 1968, she's the mixed-race daughter of an American serviceman and a Vietnamese woman. Fearing for her daughter's safety at the war's end, Hiep's mother sent her to the U.S. on Operation Babylift, a Ford administration plan to relocate orphans and mixed-race children to the U.S. for adoption before they fell victim to a frighteningly uncertain future in Vietnam after the Americans pulled out.
Kim believed her daughter would be in danger in Vietnam. "What I heard really worried me," Kim says. "If you had worked for Americans and had racially mixed children, they said those kids would be gathered up, they would be soaked in gasoline and burnt." The parting was devastating to both mother and child, who would know nothing about each other for 22 years.
Now, as if by a miracle, they are reunited in Danang. But what seems like the cue for a happy ending is anything but. Heidi and her Vietnamese relatives find themselves caught in a confusing clash of cultures and at the mercy of conflicting emotions that will change their lives forever. Through intimate and sometimes excruciating moments, Daughter from Danang profoundly shows how wide the chasms of cultural difference and how deep the wounds of war can run — even within one family.
At its core, filmmakers Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco have created a thought-provoking film about identity, family and culture: What shapes our sense of self? What defines our concept of family? And how do cultural expectations influence our choices? Since the film takes places against the backdrop of the Vietnam War it reveals how the trauma inflicted by that conflict continues to haunt and harm those who survived it.
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary Feature, 2002
Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance Film Festival, 2002
Grand Prize, Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 2002
Feature Selection, New Directors/New Films, New York, 2002
Teacher's Guide at PBS