We began the Community Outreach Campaign for Bolinao 52 on Saturday 4/26/2008 with a screening at San Jose Community College.
This was the first of a screening series in the San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area organized by KQED Education Network and San Jose/Evergreen Community College District. The event was hosted in conjunction with the Smithsonian traveling art exhibit: "Exit Saigon/Enter Little Saigon." Preceded the screening was a reflections and memories open discussion about boat people experience. There were several viewers shared their memories and others talked about their experience with the Vietnamese community members. One particular man told the audience that he is a Vietnam War veteran and he had returned to Vietnam to start an aid program to local Vietnamese. Trang Nguyen, the moderator and event coordinator, told her friend's dramatic escape and and enslavement by the rescuers. Everyone has a story to tell. But not many were willing to take the mic and spoke.
When the screening began, the auditorium was packed with people. The audience included several local politicians and school board members. Most were Vietnamese Americans. I met two couples walking from the parking lot. They heard about the screening because their boss printed out the flyer and told the all the employees at work to come. A significant difference about this crowd was they brought their children. It made the event family oriented. I think that brought out a whole new meaning to the word community engagement.
For me, the most interesting and rewarding experience in filmmaking is interacting with the audience. Most of the attendees brought their children which was a very good sight to see. A mix of good comments and questions were raised but one that stood out most was from a high school student who wanted to suggest to her teacher to give extra credits for watching Bolinao 52.
The following Thursday, May 1, Bolinao 52 returned to U.C. Berkeley, my Alma Mater. We screened the film in Sibley Auditorium, where I took one of my last final exam at Berkeley. The audience size was small but everyone stayed after the film and engaged in a very healthy dicussion with questions and answers. The event was hosted by the Center for Southeast Asia Studies. Many of the questions in this particular screening, which held true to many other screenings as well, involved Minh and Captain Balian? For Minh, why he wasn't allow to come to the U.S.? And what is Balian doing now?
I returned to San Jose City College for another screening for the students on May 7. The audience as well as the campus residents were in a studying mode for the coming final exams. There were some good questions from non-Vietnamese audience members. For an audience that are not familiar with the Vietnam war experience, this film does not provide all the historical context. So it is hard to get the complete picture within an hour. But the draw for them I feel are the characters and the story. The audience sympathized with the main characters. And they stayed for the story. Many dashed out of the auditorium to make the next class. They invested as much time as they could following the story. And that is all I can ask for.
On my way back home, I stopped at a popular Vietnamese shopping center. As I was exiting the restroom, a man called out my name. He told me he watched the film twice on television. Each time he watched , he cried. He also was a boat person and now an artist. He tried to express his boat experience through art but was not able to fully tell the story. I in turn, he said, had successful completed what he wanted to achieve. The man told me: "You entered history." I was surprise by that comment at first. But when I thought about it, he was right. I documented history and then I entered them. Good point!