Filmmakers in attendance.
Director Kulap Vilaysack’s “origin story” of her own life receives the cinematic treatment that balances larger than life graphic novel reenactments and intimate conversations with her extended family in the States and her ancestral homeland of Laos. Reminiscent of actress-turned director Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL, Vilaysack uncovers the depth of secrets and lies involved.
At age 14, Kulap took her father’s side in an argument and her mother’s response would change her world. “Why are you defending him? He is not your real dad” would remain a phrase emblazoned in her mind forever. It would take Kulap twenty years to finally process her mother’s meaning. At age 33, a successful radio personality, actor, comedian and writer living in LA, she decides to embark on a personal journey to find out the truth behind her birth father, her family’s past in Laos and the immigration process that led to her parents’ arrival to the States.
Shot in the style of a road movie, it chronicles Kulap’s quest from Los Angeles to her childhood home in Minnesota to her parents’ homeland of Laos. Kulap uncovers the truth about how her parents’ dramatic lives as refugees and eventually learns why her biological father left. After finding out who he is, she reaches out and soon plans a trip to go to his homeland to meet him. At its most intimate and jarring, it delves into her turbulent relationship with her mother and her role in Kulap’s itinerant and troubled childhood. How did she come to be born in DC and then lived the first four years of life in Minnesota with her sponsor parents, a white couple with four sons? Where was her mom during those years?
Her documentary highlights effectively her curiosity, frustrations, and healing as she investigates the buried family secrets and come to terms with her parents as flawed human beings who survived war and oppression by making difficult choices. Despite this dark subject, there is a light touch to her project and we see this shine throughout the film. There is a cross-cultural understanding about familial strife and an inherently immigrant tale present in her personal story that one can relate to no matter what culture one comes from. —Melanie Ramos
Director: Kulap Vilaysack
Producer: Kulap Vilaysack, Erica Kraus, June Diane Raphael
Director of Photography: Jonathan Nicholas
Editor: Oona Flaherty
Consulting Editor: Ian Kornbluth
Co-Composer: Steve Jablonsky, Michael Cassady
Cast: Kulap Vilaysack, Casey Wilson, Sarah Silverman