Oh, Saigon to Premiere on PBS in May 2008
Filmmaker explores her own family’s story—helicoptered out of Saigon on the last day of the Vietnam War as they attempt to resolve their divided past
“If I could put my finger on the moment my family fell apart, it would be April 30, 1975, the end of the Vietnam War,” says the narrator, Doan Hoang
(New York/San Francisco)—The documentary OH, SAIGON is the story of a family torn apart by the Vietnam War attempting to reconcile after decades of separation and political division. In 2000, the narrator, Doan, seeks to investigate her family’s dysfunction, filming her family in America and in Vietnam. Doan and her family were airlifted on the last civilian helicopter out of Saigon. Her sister, Van, had been left behind in the chaos of the war.
Doan’s father, Nam, was a South Vietnamese major and pilot while his younger brother, Dzung, deserted the Southern army. Their older brother, Hai, was a Communist who fought against them. Nam is a defeated man living with regret in his quiet, suburban Kentucky home. Hai, Doan’s older uncle, lives in bustling, urban Ho Chi Minh City and expresses fiery disapproval of Nam fighting for the “wrong” government and abandoning Vietnam. Dzung, the youngest brother, is a happy-go-lucky but impoverished fisherman living on a breathtaking South China Sea beach. Dzung had been a sergeant for the Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam (ARVN) and shot himself in the hand so he could quit fighting and be with his family. The three brothers exemplify a spectrum of different political beliefs and choices, which affected their futures and their families.
OH, SAIGON also illustrates that war not only affects soldiers and governments, but also women and children. In the chaos of the Fall of Saigon, Doan’s family became separated from Doan’s sister, Van. Leaving Van behind, they fled to America. Van endured imprisonment in Vietnam and a harrowing escape by boat before a bittersweet reunion with her family six years later. In the Vietnamese community of Westminster, California, Van is a Vietnamese pop singer, outwardly upbeat, but harboring feelings of sadness and angry resentment toward her family for leaving her behind. Doan and Van’s imposing mother, Suong, blames Van for what happened to her. Once a well-off Saigon socialite, Suong works as a seamstress serving customers in Kentucky.
Doan has an emotional reunion with her sister, which ultimately leads her to bring her family back to Vietnam for the first time in thirty years to confront their past. Fate is brought full circle in a long-awaited homecoming in the new Saigon.
The main narrator of OH, SAIGON is Doan, the connecting link among all the key characters. The narrator lets us into her confidence, revealing her thoughts and showing us her relatives who have been emotionally, physically, and even economically wounded by the war. Because of Doan’s closeness with her family, viewers are given intimate access to the film’s subjects that only she could obtain. The characters tell Doan, and therefore the viewers, their own stories in their own words, allowing us to see each person’s choices and situations as they themselves interpreted them. After the characters are established, their interviews are used as voice-overs. Captured are the characters’ raw, natural emotions and reactions to events that unfold in the film. Everyone is shown empathetically, which makes the conflict between the characters, who are related by blood, all the more poignant.
This film explores themes of home, identity, personal choice, patriotism, exile, war, loss, and the love within families that, while difficult at times, spans across politics and national divides. OH, SAIGON also deals with the struggle of displacement and how hard it is to maintain a family dynamic while settling in a new country where you are not entirely welcome.
In seeking to resolve the obvious schism in her family, Doan has compiled a documentary account that reveals the humanity of those who were soldiers, wives, children, prisoners, revolutionaries, and refugees. The war’s deep and lasting ramifications divided this family and many others between two worlds: the cold, "free," and affluent United States, and the colorful, “Communist”, and poverty-stricken Vietnam. Their lives demonstrate the consequences of split-second choices, and how a war lives on inside people long after the fighting stops. Yet, we also see indomitable will and spirit of humans and their ability to face adversity, recover and change.
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About the Filmmaker Doan Hoang, Producer/Director (née Hoang Nien Thuc-Doan) is an award-winning producer, director, and writer of films, heading her own production company, Nuoc Pictures. She was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam to a South Vietnamese Air Force major from Saigon and a Mekong Delta socialite. Raised in Kentucky, Hoang wrote her first book about the Vietnam War at age nine and made her first documentary film about war at the age of 13. A graduate of Smith College, Hoang spent years as an editor and writer, working for national magazines such as Details, House & Garden, Spin and Saveur. OH, SAIGON is a seven-year documentary study on her family, funded by the Sundance Institute, ITVS, the Center for Asian American Media and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and has played in festivals nationally and internationally. OH, SAIGON recently screened at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and won Best Feature Documentary at the Brooklyn Arts Council International Film Festival. Some of her other film titles include Agent, Good Morning Captains and A Requieum for Vegetables. She is currently writing a screenplay about perception and producing a new documentary about Vietnam today.
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