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March 20, 2003

From Danang to Hollywood
Reporter Helped Unite a Vietnamese Woman, Her Amerasian Daughter and Filmmakers Whose Documentary Is Up For An Academy Award

By T.T. Nhu

(Mercury News) - I'm going to the Academy Awards this year. ``Daughter From Danang,'' a film I've been involved with for six years, is up for best documentary.

``Daughter'' tells the story of an Amerasian woman's complex reunion with her Vietnamese mother, who had given her up for adoption in March 1975.

How I came to be involved is a tale in itself: In late 1996, I received a message on my answering machine at work. ``Ms. Nhu,'' intoned a voice with a honeyed Southern accent, ``My name is Heidi Bub and I have reason to believe you know who my mother is.''

Flashback to 1991.

Heidi Bub's mother, Mai Thi Kim, had gone to meet with American officials in Saigon to find her half-American daughter. As it happened, the interviewer was a friend of mine; he told her to write a letter, which he sent to me.

My husband was one of the lawyers in a class-action lawsuit, ``Nguyen vs. Kissinger,'' which sought to reunite children who had been brought to the United States on the ``Orphan Airlift'' with their Vietnamese families. Heidi was one of the 2,500 children on the airlift and in 1975, she was adopted by a woman in Pulaski, Tenn. I found Heidi's name in his files and forwarded Kim's letter to Holt Adoption Agency, which had processed her case.

Fast-forward to December 1996. When Heidi contacted Holt, the agency gave her my number as a possible link to her mother. Heidi asked me to locate her mother because I was going to Vietnam for a month to visit my family.

I flew to Danang for a day to look for Mrs. Kim. When I walked into her house, she exclaimed, ``I've been crazy for all these years, and now that you've brought me news of my daughter, I'm sane again.'' She asked me to bring Heidi back on March 22, the anniversary of her daughter's departure from Danang 22 years previously.

A few days later, I was at a bar mitzvah party in Berkeley, telling friends the story. Gail Dolgin, a filmmaker I knew from the anti-war movement in the 1970s, said that when Heidi went back to Vietnam, she wanted to make a movie of the reunion.

The journey to Danang in March 1997 was fraught with drama. We had all rather naively assumed it would be a joyous reunion. And, at first, it was an emotional and intense reunion for the mother and daughter, who against all odds had found each other again. ``It was like finding a needle in the sand,'' Mrs. Kim said. Things soon took a different turn, however.

Gail served as director, producer, fundraiser. Vicente Franco, with whom she had collaborated for many years, was the cameraman. They visited and filmed Heidi in the states several times after her return from Vietnam. But post-production work was difficult over the next four years, especially for Gail, whose brother was dying of cancer and who was herself diagnosed with cancer. She was denied funding several times. ``By then, I was thinking that if I didn't get the money, and guided by the cancer, I was ready to move on,'' Gail said.

At the end of 2000, right before her final chemotherapy treatment, suddenly, mysteriously, all the grants came through, some from the same funders who had repeatedly turned down the film.

The film, which in the end cost some $500,000 to make, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and won the grand documentary prize in January 2002. Discussions after the movie engendered heated debate and moving revelations from other adoptees, many of whom have had experiences similar to Heidi's in returning to Vietnam and finding their families.

``Daughter'' has since traveled the film festival circuit internationally and has won many prizes. Vicente works constantly on other films, but Gail, whose cancer is now in remission, has devoted herself entirely to managing the film.

The film is competing for an Oscar against ``Bowling for Columbine,'' about Americans' obsession with guns, and ``Prisoner of Paradise,'' a Holocaust movie, which usually wins in the documentary category (see sidebar for synopses of these and other nominated documentaries).

Gail and Vicente are preparing their acceptance speech anyway. If they win, they'll have 45 seconds to get their message across to a billion people.

``The message of the movie has always been about the effects of war and how it takes generations to heal the wounds,'' said Gail.

Contact T.T. Nhu at tnhu@sjmercury.com or (510) 790-7317.


Vietnam confirms the arrest of the dissident rights advocate

HANOI (Agence France Presse) - Vietnamese authorities admitted Thursday that they had arrested Nguyen Dan Que, a leading advocate of human rights and democratic reforms.

"Nguyen Dan Que was arrested red-handed while carrying out activities that violate Vietnamese laws," said the foreign ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh. "He will be tried in accordance with the Vietnamese law," she added.

Que, 61, an endocrinologist who has already spent nearly two decades in detention, was taken into custody at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, Radio Free Asia said Wednesday.
The well-known dissident was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1991 for subversive activities after being arrested for his involvement in a political reform movement known as the High Tide Humanist

He was released in 1998 and has been strictly controlled since.

"By arresting Dr Nguyen Dan Que the government continues to show that it will not tolerate people peacefully exercising the most basic of the rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution and in international law," Amnesty International said Thursday.


US has forgotten the Vietnam War, says Vietnamese press

HANOI (Agence France Presse) - The United States has forgotten the lessons of Vietnam War, the Vietnamese state media said as President George W. Bush declared the start of strikes in Iraq.

"By forgetting the lessons of Vietnam War, the Bush administration is leading America and its people into a war with unpredictable consequences," said an editorial in the state police mouthpiece Cong An Nhan Dan. "The American political leaders seem to forget what happened in the Vietnamese battlefields during the 1960s and 1970s, with the 'hamburger hills', the 'frying pans' and the graves burying the invaders in the green rice fields."

The paper went on to say: "Once again, the American politicians and public opinion have to review the lessons of Vietnam War, in which the US did underestimate the national spirit of Vietnamese people, while overestimating the power of bombs and weapons.

"The US defeat in Vietnam War has not yet been acknowledged and considered by the leaders in White House and Pentagon...", the newspaper said.

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