American Experience : Daughter From Danang (2003)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Interpersonal Relationships, Military & War, Race & Ethnicity, Social History  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |  
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Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Daughter From Danang is a moving and troubling documentary about Heidi Bub, the daughter of an American serviceman and a poor Vietnamese woman, born in Danang and raised in Tennessee, who returns to Vietnam to see her mother for the first time in over two decades. It's clear from early on in the film that Bub, who was raised as an American by her adoptive mother in Pulaski, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, is ill prepared for the reunion with her Vietnamese family. Filmmakers Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco (who also shot the film) do a good job of presenting the history of the misguided Operation Babylift, and include fascinating archival footage of the program. Through contemporary interviews and old photos, they also capture the all-American atmosphere in which Bub was raised, and how quickly and thoroughly she assimilated. The film then takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster as Bub meets Mai Thi Kim, her birth mother. At first, it's a joyous event, and Bub tells of the relief she feels upon feeling loved and accepted, explaining that her adoptive mother was never affectionate toward her. As Bub sees the relative squalor in which her Vietnamese mother and siblings live, and as their cultural differences become more and more obvious, eventually causing a complete breakdown in communication, the film takes on a tragic tone. While viewers will be tempted to blame either mother or daughter for the way things work out, Dolgin and Franco present the situation fairly objectively, making viewers care deeply about both parties, and making a simple assessment of blame impossible.