Review: A Village Called Versailles

August 22, 2010

Directed by S. Leo Chiang

Director S. Leo Chiang documents the struggle of Vietnamese Americans living in Versailles, a small village in eastern New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Six weeks after the storm hits, Vietnamese families trek back to their houses, businesses and streets, robbed of everything but their spirits. Deeply tied to the land, they are unwilling to let go of home a second time — or, for older generations, even a third time. Led by Father Vien Nguyen and other volunteers, the citizens of Versailles slowly piece their village back together. However, more struggles are in store. Mayor Ray Nagin orders a toxic landfill to open two miles from Versailles, holding one-third of the Katrina debris. When this news hits the community, Nagin is confronted with a sea of fists pumping in the air. For the first time, Vietnamese Americans in New Orleans banded together across generations to create a forceful voice. Drawing on compelling interviews, Chiang chronicles this inspiring story of building and rebuilding home. DVD extras include a theatrical version with Vietnamese subtitles, an educational version, and a 15-minute version. The film broadcasts nationally on PBS on May 25 as part of the Independent Lens series.

— Viet-Ly Nguyen

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