A Village Called Versailles – First Public Screening

A Village Called Versailles is a full-length documentary about the struggles and triumphs of the community of Vietnamese refuges in Versailles, located on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River just east of New Orleans. 

 Versailles 1

After Hurricane Katrina, Versailles residents impressively rose to the challenges by returning and rebuilding before most neighborhoods in New Orleans, only to have their homes threatened by a new government-imposed toxic landfill just two miles away.

Versailles 3 Versailles 2  

The film recounts the empowering story of how this community, who had already suffered so much in their lifetime, turned a devastating disaster into a catalyst for change and a chance for a better future.

Leo Chiang A 15-minute version of Director S. Leo Chiang’s (left) film has aired on PBS Frontline’s “Rough Cut” series.  You can watch that version here.

The full-length version of A Village Called Versailles will have its first public screening at 3 pm on Saturday April 11 at the Vietnamese International Film Festival in Irvine, California.  It will be followed by a panel discussion.

Please tell your friends and family in and around Orange County to go see this powerful film. Ticket can be purchased online at the ViFF website.


SF International Asian American Film Festival opens March 13

As a reminder for those of you living in the SF Bay Area (or who might get yourselves to San Francisco for a good film), the 26th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival opens on March 13th and continues through the 23rd.


I worked with and for the festival for nine years, ending the year after I moved to Khrungthep.  Even then, when I was in San Francisco last September I met with the executive and assistant directors to serve as a sounding board for some ideas, and attended last year’s Bangkok International Film Festival as an industry guest on behalf of the SF festival.  They do such good work programming an incredible festival, as befits the oldest and largest festival of its kind.

Instead of recreating work that has already been done, let me direct you to Tony’s blog.  Tony is on the screening committee for the festival and his entry contains a good summary of several of the highlights of this year’s festival.  I hope you’ll have an opportunity to attend!


The Festival Endeth

So after eight very intense days of film festival operations, it is over.  Just as a town in the aftermath of a tornado, my mind is a scattered mess.  It was a very fun ride, though.  Over lunch the day after with a former festival colleague, I came to the conclusion that something that I’m experiencing less of in Bangkok than I did here in the States is intellectual stimulation.

Through a combination of schedules and circumstances and just getting settled in to life there, Tawn and I don’t have a lot of people around us who are interested in things like films, theatre, books, lectures, travel, etc.  There are also very few people around us who are engaged in the arts, nonprofit organizations, or other causes that are driven by passions and convictions.  These few weeks here in SF reminded me of the sense of engagement and vitality that is largely absent in our lives right now.

Tawn and I have talked about this before and have considered ways to build more of this into our life.  Of course between full time jobs, studying, yoga, and visiting Tawn’s parents, I’m not sure where exactly the time comes from.  But as I leave San Francisco, while I do know that I’m glad I don’t live here anymore, I also know that there’s work to do to further develop my life in Khrungthep from being just a place I live with my husband to a fertile field where I can grow as a person at all levels.

Too deep…

Closing night party and film was at the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.  The closing film was “Journey From the Fall“, the first major American film to dramatize the traumatic aftermath of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective.  While I wasn’t able to attend the film, working at the Kabuki for the last two shows, I had seen much of it during a jury screening earlier in the week.  It is emotionally powerful and I heard from audience members who had experienced the flight from Vietnam first-hand that it really did capture the experience very well.

The party was held in an adjacent space and was very well attended.  The audience awards and the juried awards were presented – “Water” by Deepha Mehta won the audience award for best feature while “Colma: The Musical” (see previous entry) by Richard Wong won the jury award for best feature.

Off to Kansas City this morning for a week with my family.

Volunteer House Managers and Interns (L to R):


Brian, Jay, Newton, Masashi, Mabel, Jackie, Ed, Paul, Chris, and me.

Me with Sabrina and Ryan




Left: L.A. Renigen and H.P. Mendoza from “Colma: The Musical”  Right: The cast and crew from “Colma: The Musical” with festival staff members after winning the jury award for best feature film.

Film Festival staff members: Mabel, Masashi, JC and me at the Palace of Fine Arts.



Colma: The Musical

By some yard sticks (meter sticks – need to transition from imperial to metric) Tuesday night’s film festival operations were not incredibly busy.  But by other measurements, the day was really packed.

Of the eight shows Tuesday night, only two were sold out.  But both were the back-to-back 700 seat auditoriums and the first show started 10 minutes late and Q&A ran long afterwards.  So we had 400+ people lined up in the hallways outside of the auditorium.  For those of you who’ve been to the Kabuki, you know how small that space is.  For those of you who don’t, it’s a hallways about 150 feet long by 20 feet wide.  And about 300 people had to pass through that area to get to the two auditoriums at the far end of that hall.  Upstairs we have a 80 x 20 foot space where about 200 of the people queued up for the balcony.  Madness.

No comparison to tonight, where of the eight shows, five are sold out including both the large house shows.

But the highlight of the night was the world premier of Colma: The Musical (film by Richard Wong and music, lyrics and story by H.P. Mendoza).  For those who don’t know the Bay Area, Colma is a small town of 1100 between the City and the airport.  It is home to the cemeteries where San Francisco’s dead are buried.  There isn’t much else there except the Serramonte Mall, two Targets (yes, two!), and recently an In-N-Out Burger opened next door to a Krispy Kreme donuts.

The story, mostly plagiarized from their website:

“New York’s got New Jersey, San Francisco’s got the place where Colma stays.” Three friends, fresh out of high school, in the small San Francisco suburb of Colma, where the dead outnumber the living 1,000 to 1, tackle the age old question that has plagued humanity: “Now what?”

Billy is a young actor with big dreams. But there is nothing big about Colma. He is faced with the choice between the easy: being complacent and ending up in a dead end job; or the selfish: going after his dreams regardless of how it affects the people who care about him.

Rodel can be the life of the party – if he feels like it. But at home, with his brother in prison, he carries the pressure of being the “good” kid in his family. Coupled with the loss of his mother, Rodel finds his already waning relationship with his father further strained by a secret he desperately keeps from him.

Maribel basks in her youth and embraces its carefree lifestyle. Turning 19, she begins to realize that youth, like everything else, is temporary, and starts to question whether being young is based on one’s age, attitude or actions.

Together, they unwittingly begin the lifelong process of self-discovery and self-reliance – But at what expense?

The thing that really steals the show is the music.  CDs were available for sale after the show and 18 hours later, the grooves in the disc are noticeably deeper as I’ve been listening and re-listening to the tracks.  Many of the songs are highly infectious.

It was really fantastic in the style of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  I don’t know if Richard and HP will find a distributor, but hope they will.  With some further development I think this could be a really successful stage musical.

A lot of the success of the Festival can be attributed to the great volunteers.  Literally hundreds of people give their time and in theatre operations we have a special group of about a dozen volunteers who work as our House Managers.  They actually have their radios and headsets on, coordinating the start of each show, ensuring the audience is seated, guests are located, introductions are made, Q&A sessions are timely, etc.  It would be difficult to run the Festival without them.

Paul, Mabel, and Serena are three of those House Managers.  They’ve all volunteered for several years now and last night after the last show we went up to the Colma: The Musical after-party where they made silly faces for the camera.


Festival Interns showing their skill at Latin dancing:


I miss Tawn.  Still eleven days to go before I’m home in Bangkok.