Amidst the emotional climax of the global tragedy Daughter from Danang, Vietnamese-American Heidi Bub expounds, "Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and not know any of this." The "can of worms" Heidi opens in this documentary by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco carries timely relevance; Heidi rediscovers a life outside of American insularity, and a cultural perspective which—though her birthright—has become her painful polar opposite.
For Heidi, the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American military man, was born Mai Thi Hiep. After Hiep's American father walked away, her mother Kim gave her up to the U.S. government. 1975's jaw-droppingly misguided Operation Babylift purportedly gave Vietnamese orphans a better life in America, though many, like "Heidi," were weaselled away from vulnerable parents for the political efficacy of a red-faced government.
Dolgin and Franco begin the film with an astonishing archival overview of Operation Babylift, apparently a remarkably well-documented fiasco. But this cobwebbed corner of history is mere prelude to the unlikely journey Heidi takes to reunite with the family she has not seen in 22 years. Kim and Heidi's intercut interviews seem to promise a beautiful and emotionally uncomplicated reunion, with Kim earnestly bemoaning the thought that her long-lost, beloved daughter may have felt abandoned. Heidi accurately depicts herself as "101 percent" Americanized, but eager to rediscover her biological mother after an estrangement from her abusive, American, adoptive mother.
The expository scenes—already fraught with veiled racism and uncomfortably comic ironies—give way to heightened human drama in which every gesture becomes a spectacle. Kim's smothering outpour of emotion mirrors the cultural overload of Vietnamese language and custom which greets Heidi as soon as she steps off of the plane. Heidi's near-total lack of preparation for the emotional and economic demands of the trip lead to a near nervous breakdown.
Daughter From Danang makes chopped liver of America's darling reality TV by—with a seeming lack of effort—commenting on the consequences of global forces and individual choices. Seamlessly, the film recounts the parallel stories of Heidi and Kim, both victimized daughters of Danang.