A Village Called Versailles
Linda Trinh Vo, Chair, Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Irvine
An “isolated community in eastern New Orleans” known as Versailles was originally settled by Vietnamese boat people. Residents quietly endured upheaval, resettlement, generation gaps, and prejudice. The damage to Versailles following Hurricane Katrina was comparable to that in the more publicized Lower Ninth Ward. As residents rebuilt their homes and businesses, they discovered a strength and voice that united them to successfully fight against a “government-imposed toxic landfill just two miles away.” Through archival footage and interviews with residents, clergy, and community organizers, this tells a poignant and touching story of a community’s rejuvenation in the face of devastation and government corruption. The film focuses on a group of passionate residents working to establish their community.
January/February 2010 (Volume 25, Issue 1)
A Village Called Versailles ***1/2
(2009) 67 min. DVD: $95: high schools & public libraries; $275: colleges & universities. Walking Iris Films (dist. by New Day Films). PPR. Closed captioned.
S. Leo Chiang’s documentary tells the amazing story of the Versailles section of eastern New Orleans (named after the Versailles Arms, a public housing project), a tightly knit Vietnamese community since 1975, a time when refugees fled from rural Vietnam and resettled there. Following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, many of the Versailles residents worked nonstop to rebuild their homes—to the point that half the occupants returned home by January 2006. However, a month later, Mayor Ray Nagin authorized the dumping of toxic Katrina-related debris in a neighboring landfill that was ill-prepared for such materials; his action led the community to fight City Hall—and win. The film’s depiction of the rebirth of Versailles offers one of the few success stories to emerge from the disaster, while also painting Nagin as an opportunistic scoundrel (he initially planned to shut down the landfill when seeking re-election, then backtracked once his job was secure). A Village Called Versailles also offers an important sociological examination of how Vietnamese immigrants have assimilated into the U.S. mainstream. Initially an isolated population, the Versailles residents recognized the need to become part of the larger city if they were going to survive, and their use of street protests and media outreach against the landfill plan provides ample evidence of their success. Presented in both the full-length 67-minute and 54-minute version for broadcast (the documentary is slated to air on PBS’ acclaimed Independent Lens series later this year), this is highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (P. Hall)
Dr. Wei Li, Associate Professor, Asian Pacific American Studies Program and School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning, Arizona State University
Mariam B. Lam, University of California, Riverside
Full Review:Select Quotes:Chiang’s deep understanding and experience with ethnographic complexity ensures that his primary informants – members of Versailles – are given priority over any participant-observation.
Pinpoints the bigger political discursive problem – a simplified black/white racial dichotomy that currently pervades mainstream U.S. national political rhetoric.
Extensive academic groundwork and pre-production fieldwork is evident in the final product.
This visual montage will add to the historical and ethnographic record of America’s diverse Vietnamese American communities.
Full Review: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1548-7458.2010.01056.x/full
Christopher A. Airriess, Department of Geography, Ball State University, IN
Rev. Michael Yoshii, Buena Vista United Methodist Church
Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur