Ngôi Làng Mang Tên Versailles - (A Village Called Versailles)

Posted on June 17, 2010

Community Cinema's National Coordinator Desiree Gutierrez reflects on a screening of A Village Called Versailles held earlier this month before an entirely Vietnamese audience in Southern California. 

As one of the National Community Cinema Coordinators, I am use to hosting screenings with diverse crowds, but Sunday night I had the chance to be the outsider at a screening of A Village Called Versailles hosted by Nguoi Viet Daily News in Orange County’s Little Saigon. The newspaper was the first Vietnamese publication outside of Vietnam and has a rich history. As it was told to me, the newspaper originated out of a series of letters that traveled back and forth between Vietnam and the U.S. as people tried to track down their family members and friends after the war.


Tiffany Le a reporter at Nguoi Viet reached out to me last month wanting to learn more about hosting a screening of A Village Called Versailles. She knew the residents of her community would want to see the film, but as she pointed out, they would not drive to LA or West Hollywood to attend one of our already scheduled events. We made arrangements to host the film at the newspapers auditorium in the heart of Little Saigon. The newspaper had given us tremendous media coverage. We had a feature with images run a few days before the screening, and an interview with the filmmaker run the day of the event, not to mention a half page ad in the World Cup edition of the paper. Needless to say, the Vietnamese community knew we were having an event and they turned out. Nearly 200 people and four media crews filled the auditorium, and as I had been warned, I the only “Westerner” in the room.

Although I brought the film to this community, I was also an outsider. People could tell I didn’t speak Vietnamese (I am an obvious Caucasian-Mexican mix) and they would give me a welcoming nod, but few people tried to speak with me. When I went on stage to introduce the film in English, I was told that out of cultural respect, I should say, “Even though I am not Vietnamese, I love this film.” When I joked, I think they can tell I am not Vietnamese; I was informed that few people would understand me and as long as I said that sentence they would understand why I was there. With that, I was happy to oblige.

The film features both English and Vietnamese speakers.  Vietnamese subtitles ran while English speakers were on screen.  Watching the film with this crowd was a very different experience than with my typical “Western” crowd. This community understood the cultural humor and the true meaning of what people are saying, which can get lost in translation. The panel discussion and community dialogue was also held entirely in Vietnamese. I was told that a majority of the conversation was focused on the current devastation from the BP oil spill, and the conversation ended with people talking about how their community could reach out to the New Orleans East community. After the event, two men told me that they didn't know about the situation presented in the picture or that this was happening to "their people," and thanked me for sharing the film. 

By screening the film, we shared a story about a community that received little commercial attention and that, conversely, brought a story to a community that is rarely the recipient of media attention. Even though I understood very little of the conversation, I knew Community Cinema had achieved its mission.


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