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Film documents struggles after Katrina

Tricia Vaughan

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“A Village Called Versailles,” the Emmy-nominated documentary by S. Leo Chiang, will be screened at the Bama Theatre at 7 p.m. tonight.

The documentary film follows the rebuilding of a small Vietnamese community near New Orleans that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Versailles rebuilt its neighborhood faster than many others and financed most of the repairs using donations from friends and family with little aid from the government.

The name of the community came from the “Versailles Arms Apartment,” a public housing project located in east New Orleans where a group of Vietnamese refugees settled in 1975.

Soon after restoring their community post-hurricane, the people of Versailles were forced to protect their home when mayor Ray Nagin decided to dump toxic waste in the Chef Menteur landfill next to the neighborhood without performing an environmental impact evaluation.

The film dictates the story of a minority-based community in the South overcoming its obstacles in pursuit of peace and recovery.

“What this community did can motivate and provide solidarity for other communities,” Chiang said. “It can help people come together.”

Intentionally planned close to the one-year anniversary of Tuscaloosa’s April 27 tornado, Dr. Edward Tang, associate professor of American studies and Clarence Mondale Fellow in American Studies, organized the entire event — from raising funds to bring Chiang to Tuscaloosa down to the hor d’oeuvres to be served at the reception.

“I’m hoping this film will alter the way people see the South, as a place of transnational immigrants,” Tang said. “It can lead to new possibilities for defining the South.”

Along with an Emmy nomination, the documentary won eight film festival awards and has been incorporated into more than 200 library collections.

Chiang, a Taiwan native and San Francisco-based filmmaker, continues to produce and direct documentaries. His latest production is a follow up to “A Village Called Versailles” focusing on the re-election campaign of Congressman Ahn “Joseph” Cao, titled “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington.”

“I want to tell stories,” said Chiang. “I’m a story teller, and to be able to affect people viscerally is important to me.”

The Bama Theatre will host a prescreening reception from 6 to 6:45 p.m. in the lobby. The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with Chiang.

“When something like a big disaster happens, it brings people together,” Chiang said. “Seeing what this community has done, it’s inspiring.”

 

IF YOU GO:

What: Emmy-nominated “A Village Called Versaille”

When: Prescreening reception at 6 p.m., screening at 7.

Where: The Bama Theatre

Cost: Free

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Film documents struggles after Katrina