Archive for April, 2013

The chaos that erupted as thousands of South Vietnamese clammered to evacuate out of a Falling Saigon, 4/29-30/75.

The chaos that erupted as thousands of South Vietnamese clammered to evacuate out of a Falling Saigon, 4/29-30/75.

I have few memories of the motherland I was evacuated from as a young girl on 4.29.75.  But dramatic images of U.S. “Operation Frequent Wind” (like the photo posted here) are emblazoned clearly, in Hi-Def-Technicolor, in the cobwebs of my mind.  These images, until only recently, have haunted my adult life.

Thousands of us Vietnamese refugees suffer needlessly from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and refractory Depression. Tune in to a special re-broadcast of Sức Khỏe và Bạn (SKVB) Monday (4/29) at 2:40pm and Wednesday (5/1) at 6:20am on Việt Nam California Radio (VNCR, 106.3FM) to learn more about PTSD: What are the symptoms? How can it be effectively treated? Where can you/your loved ones get help? with special guest and founder of the Southern California mental/behavioral health non-profit, http://www.Viet-CARE.org.

In memoriam of “Black April” & the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975.
To Your (mental/spiritual) Health, Friends!

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Actual ViFF Spotlite Award

Irvine, California, April 18, 2013 — Late last Sunday night nearing midnight, Emmy-winning filmmaker, Đức H. Nguyễn and co-producer/wife Mai-Phương Nguyễn, were shocked when their latest documentary film, Stateless, won “The Audience Choice Award” for short films at the Closing Night celebrations of the 6th Biennial Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF). ViFF is hosted by the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA) every odd year.

“Shocked,” because earlier that evening, they had already received ViFF’s coveted “Spotlight Award” which was bestowed upon director Đức Nguyễn by the ViFF Screening Committee for “Outstanding Achievements in Filmmaking,” at an intimate reception open to the public, sponsored by the Vietnamese Community Ambassadors (aka VACA, the Vietnamese chapter of the UCI Alumni Association), the UCI South East Asian Archives (SEAA) and the UCI-Vietnamese-American Oral History Project (VAOHP).

Spotlight Awards Flyer.4.14.13

Speaking at that reception for Stateless supporters before the World Premiere of the film, Dr. Mai-Phương reflected:  “It was destiny that Đức and I met here at ViFF in 2005 and it is destiny that we return 8 years later to showcase our latest film–here, at UC-Irvine, where my journey to find identity, purpose and voice began 25 years ago.”

And how true it is because there would be no way that sheer serendipity and random chance could explain the uncanny homecoming that Stateless (and Bolinao 52, Đức’s directorial debut film that won 2 Emmy Awards in 2009, for that matter) received on Sunday.

The journey of the Bolinao 52 and Stateless began 38 years ago when Saigon fell in April, 1975 to a North Vietnamese communist victory.  This landmark event ushered in 2 decades of millions of Vietnamese fleeing a repressive post-civil war regime.

Twenty five years ago, co-producer Mai-Phương was the 3rd co-chair of an idealistic and fearless student, refugee advocacy organization at UC-Irvine called Project Ngọc which lobbied on the local and world stage.  Project Ngọc, in 1989 sent Southern California Vietnamese community delegates to the Geneva Convention, to speak on behalf of the powerless refugees.  Moreover, for over a decade, young students raised public awareness, letter writing campaigns, sent interns to work for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Washington DC and summer volunteers to teach English and social skills to the Vietnamese refugees in SE Asian camps.

In that role, Mai-Phương developed formidable grass-roots leadership skills and cross-cultural, community-organizing capacity to raise substantial funds as well as give voice to the voiceless refugees stranded in the SE Asian camps from 1989-91–exactly during the era when the world was tiring of the Việt Boat People’s plights.  This was the historic time when the camps were closing down and advocacy was more imperative than ever.

In April 2005, upon hearing about the extraordinary story of the Bolinao 52 from now, husband Đúc Nguyễn (whom she had just met at ViFF ’05), Mai-Phương resolved to raise funds to help him realize his ideal film.  She thus rallied her life-long, former Project Ngọc girlfriends.  Together, they organized 2 fundraisers to garner enough seed money to get the the shoestring Bolinao 52 cast and crew  (a.k.a. affectionally as “the B52’s”) to the Philippines and Japan to shoot the raw footage for the film.

Within 1 month of reinvigorating key, former Project Ngoc members (which included current CSU-Fullerton Asian-American Studies Professor, Tu-Uyến Nguyễn, and Khánh Ninh–a former Project Ngoc co-chair–who in turn, recruited her close friends, Tanya Ngọc Hoàng and James Dịnh), these core members were able to mobilize an effective campaign that culminated in a fundraising event at the Người Việt Community Center in the heart of Little Saigon-Westminster–the largest Overseas Vietnamese community in the world.  This event reunited a decade of former Project Ngọc members who came out and donated a lot of their time and money.  (It could not be simple serendipity that both Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyễn and James Dịnh would later become VAALA board members and ViFF organizers.)

Project Ngọc Reunion at the UCI-SE Asian Archives, April 2012.  From Left to right: Mai-Phương, Nicole Nguyễn (final PN Co-Chair in 1997, Tom Wilson (founder of PN), Anne Frank (UCI-SEAA founder and retired archivist), Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyễn, former PN volunteer in the SE Asian Camps and DC intern in 1994.

Project Ngọc Reunion at the UCI-SE Asian Archives, April 2012. From Left to right: Mai-Phương, Nicole Nguyễn (final PN Co-Chair in 1997, Tom Wilson (founder of PN), Anne Frank (UCI-SEAA founder and retired archivist), Dr. Tú-Uyên Nguyễn, former PN volunteer in the SE Asian Camps and Washington DC intern in 1994, now, a VAALA board member.

At that first Bolinao 52 fundraiser, it was destiny that the keynote speaker was none other than legendary Vietnamese actress, Kiều Chinh, who compelled guests to raise $15,000 in one night in May 2005.  And it was more than coincidence that the mistress of ceremony at that event was Ysa Lê, Executive Director of VAALA and ViFF.   Last Sunday, both Kiều Chinh and Ysa Le attended the Stateless World Premiere.  Kiều Chinh served as chair of this year’s ViFF screening committee.

Back in 2005, $15,000 dollars were raised in one night by resurrecting powerful, reprints of original art work from the UCI-South East Asian Archives–artwork that was created by the detained refugees and smuggled out of the camps by Project Ngoc members back in the day under Mai-Phương’s leadership.  Also, proceeds were garnered from generous donations of artwork and Asian antiques that were auctioned from the private collections of James Định and Dr. Quỳnh Kiều, a physician-champion who provides healthcare for the poor in rural Vietnam every summer for over 20 years.

Boat People Cry w. a rose

Sample of hundreds of original artworks created by detained refugees from SE Asian camps, made from art supplies smuggled in and out of the camps by Project Ngọc summer volunteers, now housed at UCI-SE Asian Archives.

However, further funds were needed to afford the B52 cast and crew’s shoot in the Philippines and Japan.  Undeterred and energized, Mai-Phương and Đức masterminded an encore event in San Jose–home to the second most robust Vietnamese diasporic community one month later–without any professional leads there.  They recruited new girlfriends from Orange County, Julie Võ and Ngọc H. Nguyễn (two twenty-something-year-olds, whom they had just met through ViFF and the Vietnamese Professional Society).  (It’s noteworthy that Julie Võ is now also board member of VAALA and Ngọc Nguyển is a newly graduated lawyer working to reform the legal justice system in L.A.)

These two dedicated, American-born, 2nd generation women were so inspired by the B52 film project, that they volunteered to drive up to San Jose, spend a few days at a former Project Ngọc member’s (Steve Thịnh Lê) home, to help organize the event with a couple of indie filmmaker friends they barely met but fully trusted.  The B52-NorCal Team was able to raise an additional $10,000 from both the Vietnamese and Filipino communities in Santa Clara County at the  Jacinto Siquig Northside Community Center on June 30th, 2005.

The keynote speaker of that San Jose event was the transnational, former radio host of San Francisco’s KQED’s Pacific Time, Nguyễn Quí Đức.  Quí-Đức initially answered co-producer Mai-Phương’s cold call with scrutiny and caution.  But inevitably, he came through and opened the doors to many media contacts in the Bay Area.  One of them was a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News whose 2 full-page article the weekend before the Bolinao 52 fundraiser took place, drew 20 members from the San Jose chapter of the Bolinao Club and brought Victoria Escuton to the event.

It is uncanny that Victoria who in 1988, as a young girl, remembered clearly the day Bolinao fishermen brought that ailing, infamous Bolinao 52 boat to harbor because she was swimming in the bay.   The large newsprint photo of the Bolinao 52 boat jumped out at her and compelled her to corral fellow Bolinao Club members to attend the fundraiser.

She subsequently introduced Đúc and Mai-Phương to her parents who lived on the Filipino island of  Bolinao.  Uncle Ben and auntie Belen generously hosted, housed and fed the B52 cast and crew during their 2 week shoot on island in August 2005.  Moreover, as a retired lawyer and mayor of Bolinao, Uncle Ben facilitated the finding of the key fishermen-rescuer, Caloy, who so fully completed the film’s healing story.

It would be further destiny that upon arriving to Manila to prepare to film the Bolinao 52 documentary, Đức and Mai-Phương would be hosted by Hội Trịnh, Australian-Vietnamese lawyer and refugee advocate who had lobbied for 8 long years to resettle over 2,000 Vietnamese long-stayers, caught in the maelstrom of politics and refused resettlement to the West since 1989.

Even more amazing is that destiny would bring the the B52 cast and crew to Manila just a few days before the US officials from the Office of International Migrations (IOM) would arrive to interview the “Vietnamese Long-Stayers” for their last chance to resettle to the West.  This timely “coincidence” gave filmmaker Đức a unique opportunity to capture their live interviews.  Thereafter, for 8 more years, he followed their migration stories to the US, Canada and Western Europe to birth his 3rd documentary film project, Stateless.

And finally, it would be poetic destiny last Sunday, April 4th, 2013 back at UCI where the filmmaker and co-producer first met at ViFF 2005, that their second film together, Stateless, would return “home,” to receive not only the coveted “Spotlight Award,” but also to close the 10th Anniversary ViFF 2013, by garnering the prized “Audience Choice Award” for Best Short Film.

Closing Night Awards w/ the B52s (fr. Left to Right): Dr. Bảo Nguyễn, Ysa D. Lê, Khánh Ninh (former PN Co-Chair), ViFF ice, co-producer Mai-Phương, Dr.  Tu-Uyên Nguyen (former PN DC intern and SE Asian camp counselor), Huy Trần, director Đức.

Closing Night Awards w/ the B52s (fr. Left to Right): Dr. Bảo Nguyễn, Ysa D. Lê, Khánh Ninh (former PN Co-Chair), [ViFF ice], co-producer Mai-Phương, Dr. Tu-Uyên Nguyen (former PN DC intern and refugee camp volunteer), Huy Tường Trần, director Đức.

There is no doubt, Stateless–like director Đuc’s antecedent film, Bolinao 52–is a universally heart-wrenching tale that speaks to many generations of Vietnamese in the Diaspora.   Meanwhile it also enables those foreign to the Boat People experience to better understand the depth of loss and sacrifices made, in the search for ‘freedom’ and ‘home’.

Through director Đức Nguyễn’s skillful and empathic lens, in the universal language of film, both these documentaries pull the viewers into the world of displaced, rejected yet ever-hopeful and resilient Boat People.  Đức’s films force audiences to collectively bear witness to horrific human tragedies while delivering them on journeys of triumph of the human spirit, giving way to lasting healing from collective, deep wounds of war.

But beyond the incredible story-telling of and by the subjects in these two landmark films, the love story behind the making of the Bolinao 52 and Stateless, there is a bigger love story that extends far beyond that of filmmaker and co-producer, now, husband-wife, Đức and Mai-Phương.  It is the story of the intense love of country and love for a democratic nation that–while perhaps may have been vanquished after the Vietnam-American War ended–remains immortalized in the hearts and souls of the Overseas Vietnamese people who are forever defined by their shared refugee sagas.

As director Đức commented during the Question and Answer (Q&A) session after the film premiere, “it is so moving to see the film on the BIG screen (after years of editing it on his computer, small screen)…and to hear you, the audience, clap and root for the Stateless cast.”  (This, is in the context of hearing  the viewers erupting in collective cheers and applauding towards the end, when the Stateless triumphantly arrive to the West after decades of arduous struggles.)

As one of the key audience members (who is also a well-recognized community leader) Lân Quốc Nguyễn, commented in the Q&A session, “this movie is so important because it reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted here in the U.S.” 

Two decades earlier, as a young, new lawyer, Counselor Lân shared that when he went to the Philippines with a Boat People S.O.S. delegation to help resettle Vietnamese Refugees: “I remember advising some of the refugees and it struck me hard to realize that they had been tragically separated from their families and children–some for 10-14 years–whereas, I had just left my wife and son a few hours ago at the LAX airport…I had to fight to hold back the tears.” 

Also echoing the power of Stateless and Bolinao 52 to elicit raw emotions for the Vietnamese viewers, actress Kiều Chinh remarked to Đức Nguyễn, “your films always make me cry!  I don’t like to cry [in public]!”

From left to right: co-producer/former Project Ngọc refugee advocate turned minority-healthcare advocate, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, legendary Việt actress Kiều Chinh, director Đức H. Nguyễn, and lawer/refugee advocate, Lân Quốc Nguyễn

From left to right: co-producer/former Project Ngọc refugee activist now, minority-healthcare advocate, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, legendary Việt actress Kiều Chinh, director Đức H. Nguyễn, and lawer/refugee advocate, Lân Quốc Nguyễn

But as co-producer Mai-Phương (who is also a doctor practicing in Little Saigon as well as a champion for minority healthcare) so adeptly recommended, “We made  Bolinao 52 and Stateless to be shared for generations to come.  Please use them as vehicles for you as grandparents and parents to tell your painful yet heroic stories…to open up the difficult but necessary dialogues with your children and grandchildren about our collective refugee experiences so that they can be ever proud to be Việt-Americans… and let the healing continue!” 

And finally, it is dramatic destiny that on the weekend before the U.S. Congress would introduce historic Immigration Reform bills for debate, Stateless would be released into the world to help deepen the dialogue about innocent peoples’ plights to live free, with dignity and universal human rights, worthy of protections under the law.

Lastly, a viewer’s discretionary advisory:  have your kleenex tissues handy when Stateless arrives to a theater near you!  It stops next at the San Francisco Global Film Festival on Sunday, April 28th at the historic Roxie Theater (2:45pm); followed by a screening at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) on Saturday, May 4th at the Director’s Guild of America (2:45pm).  Stateless is also nominated for LAAPFF’s Grand Jury Prize for documentary films.

[Addendum: On August 17th, 2013m STATELESS will screen at the CAAMFest-San Jose, at Camera 3 Cinema (288 S. Second St, San Jose 95106), 4:15pm.  Many in the audience will be supporters who helped breathe life into STATELESS years ago.    A reception will follow the screening at 19Market Restaurant (19 N. Market St, San Jose, from 6-8pm).  Filmmakers Duc and Mai-Phuong will be available at both the film screening and reception to update on the film project as well as to raise finishing funds to polish the film to the caliber requisite to air on public (PBS) and cable television in the near future.  CAAMFest-San Jose is a 3 day film festival hosted by San Francisco based Center for Asian America Media, a major supporter and funder of Bolinao 52 in 2007. ]

For more information:

http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/stateless 2013


STATELESS is a production of Right Here In My Pocket: http://www.rhimp.com

Watch trailer: 

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Spotlight Awards Flyer.4.14.13

Join Emmy-winning director, Đức H. Nguyễn, and co-producer, Mai-Phương Nguyễn, for a Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF) SPOTLIGHT AWARD Reception (free and open to all) at UCI-Humanities Gateway #1030, 2pm.  This event is co-sponsored by VACA (Vietnamese American Community Ambassadors), a chapter of UCI-Alumni Association, UCI-Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP) and UCI-SE Asian Archives.

Following the Spotlight Awards,  STATELESS will World Premiere at 4pm in Humanities Instructional Building #100, next-door.   An 8-year work-in-progress, STATELESS is fully funded by friends and supporters of the Vietnamese-American communities throughout California.   A collaborative effort culminating from years of grass-roots mobilizing of former UCI-Project Ngọc members, supporters as well as long-time refugee advocates such as Hội Trịnh and his non-profit organization, VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiatives for Conscience and Empowerment), STATELESS is truly a testimonial to what unwavering hope, faith, hard work and resilience can accomplish.

This unique ViFF Spotlight Award Reception and STATELESS screening promise to be a heart-warming “home” coming, on so many levels, for all those who have experienced displacement and longing for  ‘home,’ as a result of war or complicated politics.  On the eve of the U.S. Congress unveiling landmark Immigration Reform legislation, the premiere of STATELESS could not be any more timely.

Watch Trailer here:

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Irvine-California.  April 12, 2013.  The latest documentary film, Stateless: Vietnamese Long-Stayers in the Philippines (US | Philippines, 2013) by Emmy-winning filmmaker, Đức H. Nguyễn, will receive the SPOTLIGHT AWARD when it World Premieres at the Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF), Sunday, April 14, 2013 on Closing Day at UC-Irvine, HIB100, 2-6pm.

STATELESS elucidates the story of 2,000+ forgotten Boat People who were stranded on the islands at the lowest tide of compassion fatigue in the late 1980s and thus, were denied resettlement to the West.  For over 16 years, they lived on the fringes of Filipino society, stripped of their civil rights.  By 2005, the asylum seekers were given a final chance to find “home” when U.S. immigration officials returned one last time to review their cases —the end result of 8 long years of lobbying by a maverick refugee rights lawyer, Hội Trịnh, from Australia who is also a former Boat Person.  www.VietFilmFest.com/stateless.html

Eight years in the making, Director Đức Nguyễn follows a few Stateless refugees on their quixotic quest to find “home.”   He captures their heart-breaking journeys via candid interviews during their anxiety-provoking waits for interviews with immigration officers.  We hear first-person recounts of their tragic experiences:   Some risked multiple failed journeys by sea to escape a corrupt and repressive post-War Communist Vietnam; others escaped on foot through the land-mines of Cambodia; but all would eventually arrive to the Philippines and remain stuck.   Unfortunately this group of long-stayers arrived to the refugee camps after the arbitrary deadline of March 1989, when the South East Asian refugee camps were closing.   Unable to prove their ‘bonafide refugee’ status, these Vietnamese asylum seekers were denied resettlement.

For almost two decades, they subsisted in limbo, without any legal protections of their basic human rights.  In the year of Immigration Reform here in the U.S., STATELESS gives a rare and poignant glimpse into the tragic lives of innocent people caught in the maelstrom of international politics and rejection.

STATELESS has also been selected as a finalist for the FESTIVAL GRAND JURY PRIZE in NON-FICTION at the Los Angeles Pacific Asian Film Festival (LAAPFF) and will screen on May 4th at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood (2:45pm).   http://laapff.festpro.com/films/detail/stateless 2013

It makes a Northern California sneak preview at the San Francisco Global Vietnamese International Film Festival on April 28th at the historic Roxie Theater (2:45pm).  http://www.sfgvff.wordpress.com.

STATELESS is Đức Nguyễn’s second feature-length documentary film.  His debut film, BOLINAO 52 (shot in Japan, Philippines and the U.S., 2007), won 2 Northern California Emmy-Awards for “Outstanding Documentary Film” and “Original Music Composition” (to composer,  Mark Izu) in 2009.  Bolinao 52 tells the unspeakable tale of 52 survivors aboard a ship of an original 110 Boat People that left Vietnam in 1988.  Adrift at sea for over 37 days, the remaining 52 refugees resorted to cannibalism to survive.   Rejected by Japanese, U.S. Naval and several other ships that could have potentially rescued them, they were finally saved by poor Filipino fisherman to the island of Bolinao.  Đức Nguyễn’s Bolinao 52 is another powerful tale of human resilience and forgiveness—one that offers closure and healing for both Vietnamese and American survivors of the Vietnam-American War.

Website: www.statelessdocumentary.com

STATELESS is a production of Right Here In My Pocket: http://www.rhimp.com

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