sống ở đây
to live here
Exploring the intimacy of the mundane, sống ở đây focuses on the lives of Vietnamese shrimpers and elderly farmers in New Orleans, understanding the reverberations of the past, present in day to day labor.
How is historical memory created? How is a single war experienced across generations? How does intergenerational trauma manifest itself into an everyday routine? This film seeks to find the reverberations of the War in Vietnam, urging connections of a past to a present. Hoping to seek answers to these questions during my filming, I’ve found that I’m left with even more now that I’m in my final stages of editing. While I’m continuing to keep my formative questions in mind, what guides my edit is more of a balancing of which of these questions I want to center within the film and which newly formed questions pull forward.
Lingerings of the past are reimagined as ghosts. Perhaps these ghosts take on the form of a family member; an uncle who always carries a pack of Marlboro Reds, but never a lighter. A grandmother, always sitting at the same seat of the dining table, her back never facing the door. The weight of cupboards, burdened with a hesitancy to throw away expired cans of food. The haunting exists in two-fold, which can be seen in familial relationships. There is the haunted but also an observer of these ghosts, someone who also carries these habits into their own lives, becoming haunted themselves. It is when a connection is made – an explanation offered for these hauntings, with fingers pointed back to the Vietnam War, that these ghosts become a bit less, or perhaps more, transparent.
These ghosts carry over to the forms of labor expressed throughout the film. What hauntings transgress typical notions of family? What ghosts can be linked across strangers? Does a person’s back, hunched over peeling shrimp, carry the same weight as a person’s back, hunched over, watering plants? In relation to the ghosts that become present, the film explores the motif of displacement. There is a displacement of bodies from Vietnam to New Orleans, after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. 30 years later, there is a double displacement of these bodies, as people become refugees twice over, having to leave New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. There is another layer of displacement, in the form of memories and trauma. Within familial settings or other allowances of intimacy, these professedly immaterial displaced are retraced to ghosts, as ghosts – and are seen embodying others.
I’ve been interested in the formation of identity through the meaning of nước (translated both as water and homeland). Water is something that is necessary to live. Can this be extended to the necessities of water for those that escaped as refugees via boat? I can’t remember the first time that I’d heard the phrase “mất nước” (to lose a homeland). Yet, I’ve known of this phrase prior to doing research last year. There has always been something utterly sad that I’ve acquainted with “mất nước”. Perhaps it is because I immediately think of the literal translation of having “lost water” and fear that what has been deemed necessary to live has been lost. When I think of “mất nước” as it’s definition “to lose a homeland”, I think about losing a place of belonging, of familiarity, of return. To “mất” is to have lost. If something is lost, does the person that loses it continue searching for it?
sống ở đây is a film of diaspora. It is a film of labor. It is a film of questions that seek an answer, or perhaps a home to hold them.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
MELANIE DANG HO
Filmmaker, Cinematographer, Editor
Melanie is a documentary filmmaker because there are stories to be told. Be it people, a place, or even an imagined space – there is a call to action, an urgency, and a need for these stories to be seen. Documentary films are accessible means to understand complex issues and important viewpoints. Her intentions and efforts as a filmmaker are to place an emphasis on uplifting and centering the voices of those often unheard.