Young overseas-born Vietnamese are returning in waves to begin new lives in the country their families fled decades ago.
I had no idea what I was doing in Vietnam.
A one-week trip in 2017 inspired a nearly three-year long residence in the country my parents fled following the war. I told friends and family that I was rediscovering my roots. What I was really doing was enjoying the hell out of a lifestyle I could never afford back in Los Angeles.
I wasn’t the only one of us with that idea.
We are colloquially known as Việt Kiều, the ethnically Vietnamese who were raised overseas, our lives a result of the outcome of The War.
Many of us have made our way to the land of our parents’ birth, to start new lives in this country that we were taught so little about.
Between 1975 and 1995 around 2,000,000 Vietnamese fled the country. In 2015, there were a reported 12,000 Việt Kiều who “returned” to the former capital of Saigon, with hundreds more migrating every year. I was one of them, and I had fun out there.
My mom was worried about me the whole time.
In my household, we didn’t talk about the traumatic circumstances which led to our settlement in California. All I knew was my late father was a POW and my mom left the country in a boat. She hasn’t returned since.
In October 2022, I conducted a dozen interviews with Viet Kieu who settled in Saigon from all walks of life, to hear their reasons for starting new lives in the motherland.
They had a lot to share.
Shot over two weeks in Saigon and Hanoi, THE EMPATHIZER is a half-hour documentary featuring over twenty millennial-aged Viet Kieu sharing their journeys back to Vietnam and the ripples that their reverse immigration may have caused among their families.
The project takes a look at the effects of wartime trauma through the eyes of the children of refugees, a generation removed from the events which led to their parents’ escape from Vietnam yet deeply shaped by the circumstances of their birth.
Each of these young adults eventually made their way back to the country seeking opportunity, escape, or info about their heritage.
You can imagine how their folks, who fled their collapsing country via boats and bribes, must have felt about that move.
We feel that this film will resonate not only with immigrants all over the world, but anyone who is dealing with generational trauma or experiencing a strong disconnect with their parents.
There is a wealth of media exploring the complexities of the Vietnamese immigrant experience. The Empathizer brings a refreshingly good-humored approach to its subject matter and characters while remaining respectful of the events of the past.
What steps can we take towards healing from generational trauma?
At this point in production, we are in need of additional funds to pay for the completion of this passion project.
We are proud to been selected for fiscal sponsorship by Film Independent. The Fiscal Sponsorship program opens the door to nonprofit funding for independent filmmakers and media artists.
Any amount donated to The Empathizer will qualify as tax-deductible.
The funds will be essential in getting our film over the finish line. Post-production costs are expensive, and would include hiring an editor to finish our final cut, along with crucial animation, color grading, sound editing and mixing, music, translation, and captioning we need to present our film in the way we mean for it to be seen.
THE EMPATHIZER is a labor of love, a collaboration between two friends who met in Saigon.
Fred is a graduate of the Film & Digital Media program at UC Santa Cruz. In Vietnam he served as the original host of the VTV International program Vietnam A-Z.
He currently performs and produces standup all over California and has earned invites to perform at prestigious festivals including San Francisco Sketchfest, Treefort, and Boom Chicago in Amsterdam.
In 2022 he co-created the popular all-Vietnamese comedy showcase Embarrassed by Night.
Bret is a documentary director of photography based in Los Angeles. Bret also lived in Vietnam during the same period as Fred, where he developed a deep affection for the culture and community in Vietnam while working as a documentarian for a variety of media outlets including one of the top online food and travel channels: Best Ever Food Review Show. More recently, Bret has partnered with brands like Rolling Stone magazine, Showtime and Salesforce to capture engaging stories for their global audiences.