Hai Anh Trieu
03/Jun 2019 / 7pm / extantation / Chiang Mai
Screening of Birds of a Feather (work in progress, Germany, Vietnam, ca. 50 min)
In the mid 1980s Doan Thi Hai Yen moves from Saigon, Vietnam to Sokolov, Czechoslovakia as part of a work exchange program where she was to be trained as a textile technician. Slowly but surely, she realizes it’s a scam: the training was for assembly line work in a factory, and the wages were all but subsistence level. Frustrated by the conditions, Yen leaves her workplace and marries. Soon enough, she discovers she’s pregnant. But she worries that if she goes to a hospital, she’ll be forced to choose between an unwanted abortion and deportation to a war-torn Vietnam. Rejecting this ultimatum, she takes matters into her own hands. One night in 1991, she flees Czechoslovakia and sets out to Munich on foot. Once she arrives in Germany, she moves from asylum center to asylum center. All the while, Yen makes VHS home videos documenting her new life with baby Anh as she moves across Europe and sends the tapes back to her family Vietnam. Almost 30 years later, Anh travels to Saigon and Hanoi with a camera and film crew to stage her homecoming to the home she never had—to make images about the people who spent their whole lives looking at images of her.
Birds of a Feather is a meditation on the vicissitudes of diasporic belonging in the age of transnational migration and reproducible media. The film traces one family’s attempt to actively construct a coherent family narrative over vast distances and stretches of time. It moves freely between Yen’s original VHS recordings and contemporary footage shot with actors in Hanoi and Saigon. In eschewing the boundaries between documentary and fiction, it rejects the possibility for any authentic portrayal of an ethnographic subject. Instead, Trieu offers an image of a heavily mediated relationship to one’s own biography, which is nonetheless completely true to her own. In one of the film’s most telling scenes, Yen and baby Anh show their granny a warm sunny day in the park and introduce baby Anh’s German friend. After introducing herself, however, the German friend quickly notes, “That’s not your granny. It’s a camera!”
Funded by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Literarisches Colloquium Berlin