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Reunion and Hurt in 'Daughter'

November 15, 2002|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

The proverb about being careful what you wish for because it just might come true has rarely had such a poignant, unsettling illustration as it does in the affecting documentary "Daughter From Danang."

"Daughter" begins with the happy expectation of a dream come true: 29-year-old Heidi Bub, born Mai Thi Hiep, is going to go back to Da Nang, Vietnam, to be reunited with a mother she hasn't seen in 22 years. "It's going to be so healing for both of us to see each other," she says. "It'll make all those bad memories go away." At least that is the plan.

How Hiep became Heidi with a Southern accent, how she was turned into someone she calls "101% American," is a cautionary tale all by itself. With her soldier father gone and her mother fearful of having a mixed-race child once the North Vietnamese took over, 7-year-old Hiep was sent to the U.S. as part of a program called "Operation Babylift" that was supposedly intended for orphans.

Adopted by a single mother in Pulaski, Tenn., Heidi had a sadder childhood than anyone knew. Her new mother, who is not interviewed, was more possessive than warm and apparently abusive as well, leading to a permanent split between the women and causing the already insecure Heidi to wonder what she had done to lose the affection of not one but two mothers.

"Daughter From Danang's" co-directors, Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, formed a strong rapport with Heidi and, when her trip back to Da Nang began to unravel, the filmmakers were there to take it all in.

For it turns out to be not so simple to reunite with a virtual stranger from another world who, into the bargain, is your mother. The gulf that had grown between parent and child was much greater than either side anticipated and, with different cultures leading to different expectations, a storybook experience was not going to materialize. Heidi's pre-trip worry that "we're going to hurt someone's feelings" turned out to be true all the way around.


'Daughter From Danang'

Where: Nuart Theater, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles

Rating: Unrated

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

There will be a question-answer session with co-director Gail Dolgin on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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