A Village Called Versailles

After Hurricane Katrina, a Vietnamese American neighborhood in New Orleans pushes back against a proposed toxic landfill.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens, Global Voices
Premiere Date
May 25, 2010
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 New Orleans Film Festival-Audience Award
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    2009 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival-Best Documentary Award
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    2010 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story
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    2010 Crossroads Film Festival-Best Documentary Feature Award
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    2010 DisOrient Asian American Film Festival-Third Eye Award
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    2010 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival-Call to Action Award
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    2010 Council On Foundations-Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media
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    2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival-Audience Award
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    2011 American Library Association-Notable Videos for Adults Award
  • S. Leo Chiang

    S. Leo Chiang

    S. Leo CHIANG (Producer/Director) is a documentarian based in Taipei & San Francisco. His Emmy-nominated film, A Village Called Versailles, picked up eight film festival awards and aired on PBS’ Independent Lens series. Out Run, his recently completed film, received support from ITVS, Sundance, and Tribeca. His other films include Mr. Cao Goes To Washington Show more (Inspiration Award, Full Frame 2012) and To You Sweetheart, Aloha (PBS broadcast 2006). Leo received his MFA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He is currently the co-chair of New Day Films, a 45-year-old co-op of social-issue documentarians. He is also a consulting producer for CNEX, the Chinese documentary foundation. Show less

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    The Film

    More than three decades ago, Vietnamese refugees began to settle in Versailles, a then-isolated community in eastern New Orleans. By the early 2000s, this working-class enclave was home to 8,000 residents. But although the community had accomplished material successes, it remained divided between older immigrants and American-born youth. Many Versailles residents felt like perpetual outsiders in greater New Orleans, ignored by the local government.A Village Called Versailles is the incredible story of this little-known, tight-knit community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When the storm devastated New Orleans in August 2005, Versailles residents rebuilt their neighborhood faster than any other damaged neighborhood in the city, only to find themselves threatened by a new toxic landfill slated to open just two miles away. Forced out of Vietnam by the war 30 years ago, many residents felt their homes were being taken away from them once again.

    By January 2006, more than half of the neighborhood has been rebuilt, financed by friends and family, with no help from FEMA. Community leaders put together an ambitious redevelopment plan for Versailles, including its own senior housing, a cultural center, and a community farm and market. But New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin exercised his emergency power to open Chef Menteur Landfill mere miles from Versailles for toxic debris disposal from Katrina — without getting an environmental impact study first.

    Outraged, Versailles fought back. Residents protested at City Hall and crowded public hearings by the hundreds, making the Vietnamese community’s presence felt in New Orleans for the first time. As elders and youth fought side by side — chanting in English and Vietnamese — Versailles finally won a political voice.