DIRECTOR: KEVIN TRUONG
A 70-year-old Vietnamese American refugee living in Oregon writes down her life story, indelibly shaped by the War in Vietnam. As she shares what she has written with her filmmaker son, they begin separate but parallel journeys confronting the traumas of their past and the emotional divide in their present.
Filmed over the course of ten years, Mai American is an exploration of intergenerational trauma within families, the mythologies that are built within family histories and the dynamics between parent and child. Told against the backdrop of the broader Asian American and immigrant experience, and nearly 50 years after the end of the War in Vietnam, the film is an intimate portrayal of an American immigrant woman, her family and the power of a woman’s story—a power that can often be forgotten or overlooked by even her own children.
When I was younger, I was embarrassed by my mother. When you grow up as a little brown immigrant kid in a predominantly white city, you’re quickly taught that being different is wrong–through the taunts of your classmates and the stories in the media, even the curriculum of your school. And my mom was different. She spoke English with a heavy Vietnamese accent. Our house was always messy and she never went to teacher parent conferences. She wasn’t married. I ran away from her, not physically, but emotionally, because she represented everything I didn’t want to be. As an adult, I can see the shallowness of my thinking. My mom spoke English with a heavy Vietnamese accent because she was bilingual. Our house was messy and she never went to parent teacher conferences because she was working two jobs. As someone who wasn’t married she carried the burden of supporting three children alone in a new country. This woman who I thought was so weak was actually superhuman. The type of woman who had the courage to flee the only country she ever knew in a wooden fishing boat, pregnant with me and with my two older sisters, and spend 11 days drifting in the sea. This is the type of woman who had the fortitude to build a life for her three children in a country she had never been to.
’Mai American’ is my way to atone for the way I treated my history when I was younger and the fact that I “othered” my own mother. It is a film for all of the immigrant children out there who feel the same shame and embarrassment about their mothers as I did about mine. I want to show the world our moms are superhuman. Their differences don’t make them weak, but divine.
This has been a project I’ve worked on for ten years and has been a way for my family to heal from the intergenerational trauma that has lived within our bodies.
But this film is more than just a personal documentary about my mom and my family. My mom’s personal history is woven into the broader history of the War in Vietnam, and “Mai American” will thread my mom’s personal journey with the broader history of this conflict. The 50th anniversary of the end of this war is approaching in 2025. It is so important to me that some of the storytelling around this conflict be told by people of Vietnamese heritage. In the United States, it is called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, it is called the American War. As Vietnamese Americans, we occupy a unique space and authority to tell the story about this conflict. History is made up of the lives of those who lived it, and my mother deserves to have her story be told. The historical is personal.
VOTING OPENS THURSDAY, APRIL 27 • 10AM PT
VOTING CLOSES THURSDAY, MAY 11 • MIDNIGHT PT
WINNERS ANNOUNCED SUNDAY, MAY 14
|START OF PRODUCTION:||July 2013|
|EXPECTED DELIVERY:||December 2023|
|SHOOTING LOCATIONS:||United States, Viet Nam|
|PRODUCTION COUNTRY:||United States|
|CONFIRMED PARTNERS:||Sundance Institute, Center for Asian American Media, BAVC Media, MacArthur Foundation, Asian American Documentary Network, Haverford College, Regional Arts and Culture Council, DocPitch@DocLands|
|CURRENT PROJECT STATUS:||By the end of April 2023, I hope to be beginning the rough cut stage.|
Kevin Truong is the director, producer, and director of photography for Mai American. He works as a filmmaker, photographer, and journalist.
Born in a refugee camp for Vietnamese Boat People in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he was raised in Oregon and has a strong connection to the Pacific Northwest.
As a filmmaker he has received fellowships from both the Center for Asian American Media and BAVC Media, is a grantee of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and a proud member of A-Doc. His projects have also received support and funding from the California Film Institute, Regional Arts and Culture Council, Haverford College, and the MacArthur Foundation.
As a journalist, Kevin has written stories for NBC News and Motherboard Tech by VICE and has worked as a producer with Student Reporting Labs at the PBS NewsHour. With Student Reporting Labs he recently helped produce and film a series of short documentaries on misinformation, some of which have aired on the NewsHour.