Daughter of Danang, a film by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, may be ranked amongst the greatest documentaries of this century. Unlike most Hollywood movies, this is a real, absolutely true harrowing story that takes its beginning from the Vietnam War. There are no stunts or special effects, outstanding actors or hackneyed phrases – there is just a real life with all its problems, misunderstandings, pros and cons, love and pain.
Being abandoned (let us call things by their proper names) by her Vietnamese mother, Heidi, the mixed-race girl whose father is American servant, flies to the US with other American-Vietnamese children due to Ford’s ‘Operation Babylift’. She is brought up by American adopted mother who tries to hide Heidi’s Vietnamese origin and keep her on a tight rein. Until one day a family feud with adopted mother occurs and Heidi realizes that her real mother is the only person whom she would like to have in her life most of all. They have not seen each other for 22 years, though close bond between a parent and a child procreates a great desire to see a real mother and revive family ties.
The action really gets going when Heidi is thrilled to bits at the news that her mother’s address is available at the adoption centre. Feeling upturn coming, Heidi flies to Vietnam, Danang, to see a person who gave her a birth. No one watching this film can fail to see fear and at the same time blissful happiness in Heidi’s eyes. She impatiently wishes to see her biological mother, her relatives and her house as soon as possible. If I were to have one complaint about the film, it would be that exactly this moment should be the end of the moving story. Though, unfortunately, the curtain of happy memories and heartwarming feelings is falling down…
Finally, Heidi finds herself surrounded by numerous relatives, horrible conditions for living and importunate low-brow mother. All Heidi’s dreams turn sour, she feels the downfall of all her expectations. What is more, she understands that these Vietnamese people are literally strangers to her. On discovering this horrible truth, Heidi feels like a cat on hot bricks and very depressed. Then the last straw to break the camel’s back comes - the main heroine realizes that her relatives are stingy opportunistic people who want to use her. They abruptly ask her to support their mother financially, motivating that by the fact that Heidi is better-off and it is her responsibility to care for her mother and all the relatives. Being all adrift, Heidi bursts into tears, feeling that her own mother, who abandoned her many years ago, now is ready to take the shirt off Heidi’s back. It seems to me that everything she has in her heart at this moment is a strong abhorrence to her relatives. There is no other way to defuse tension but go back home, to the United States.
One of the great strength of this film is the way it shows off people’s nature. Almost unknowingly, the movie leads you through the twists and turns of Heidi’s feelings and her huge disappointment. Having such a gripping story, Heidi evokes sympathy in my heart. To tell the truth, the only thing I would thank her mother for, if I were in Heidi’s shoes, would be abandonment and letting her be adopted by American woman. Perhaps it may sound cruel, but being brought up without her real mother helped Heidi to remain a good person who deserves happy life. To sum up, I consider Daughter from Donang to be down-to-earth story that can teach one a lot of things like being realistic and ready to face great disappointment. The result is an awesome film which will have you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning till the end.