Film Screening: Birds of a Feather
“Birds of a Feather”
A work in progress // Germany, Vietnam, ca. 60 min
Time: 11.06.2019 @6:30pm
Location: Ca Phe Thu Bay Tre
264 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia,
Ward 8, District 3, HCMC
(above Trung Nguyen Legend Cafe)
Director: Trieu Hai Anh
The screening will be followed by a short Q&A with the filmmaker and a few members of the crew.
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!”