ITVS Presents “PRECIOUS CARGO”
(San Francisco, CA) ITVS presents Pham Quoc Thai and Janet Gardner’s PRECIOUS CARGO, a one-hour documentary that follows the bittersweet journey of a group of Vietnamese young people, adopted by American families at the end of the Vietnam War, who traveled back to their homeland in search of their personal history. In the process, the film tells the fascinating story of Operation Babylift, which brought 2,700 children to America, and introduces us to many of the pioneering adoptive parents who began a movement that has grown to redefine the American family by embracing these biracial, sometimes disabled children as their own. PRECIOUS CARGO will air nationally on PBS stations in November, in conjunction with National Adoption Month.
As Saigon fell in April of 1975, panic and confusion reigned. Nowhere was this more true than in the many orphanages which were filled with the youngest casualties of war – children who had lost their parents; children of American fathers whose Vietnamese mothers had placed them for adoption to increase their chances of survival; and the malnourished, sick and disabled. In response to the crisis, then President Gerald Ford allocated $2 million to airlift 2,000 orphans to the States.
As we see in PRECIOUS CARGO, the first flight out crashed soon after take-off. Of the 330 adults and children on board, 154 perished in the tragedy. The first flight that landed safely in the U.S. was met by none other than President Ford himself, who carried a Vietnamese baby off the plane in his arms. Several other planeloads of children were airlifted out within a week and went on to their new homes, with their new American families. PRECIOUS CARGO tells the story of several of these children, now 20-something Americans, as they head back on a reunion trip to Vietnam sponsored by Holt International Children’s Services, which ran one of the many Vietnamese orphanages.
On their native soil, the adoptees journey to the orphanages they came from, often meeting the nuns and nurses who cared for them. Raised in relative affluence and comfort, they confront the over-crowding and poverty, as well as the natural beauty and mysticism of their homeland, and wrestle with complex feelings of loss and gratitude, connection and detachment. We travel with them to The War Remnants museum where their hosts politely but firmly express their strongly anti-American, anti-Babylift sentiments. Finally, we see the adoptees as they return home to Washington, D.C., to a moving reunion ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial. With their American parents, the adoptees talk about what they’ve learned, experienced and come to know about themselves, their birth country, and their beloved adoptive families.
As adoptee Liz Sowles says, “For me, the trip answered a lot of questions in the sense of being at peace with what happened to me. Just seeing that other people on the trip also had emotions and that we were all in the same boat was a help. I’m very lucky where I live, I have great people who love me and I love them dearly…I think it’s the best thing I’ve done so far.”
As one adoptee’s mother says, “These children needed homes, they needed food, they needed medical care. That’s what was important. The political part of it was not important.” Both heart-breaking and joyous, PRECIOUS CARGO is a moving tribute to the resilience and strength of the adoptees and their families.
About the Adoptees Featured in PRECIOUS CARGO
TODD ADAMSON was known to the nuns at Sacred Heart Orphanage in DaNang where he was left on the doorstep 30 years ago as Truong Thang. His adoptive mother, Marilyn Adamson, knew that he was the son of an American GI and a Vietnamese woman and that he had polio and worms when they brought him home to Harleysville,PA.
LEE STEFIN, was born Le Thi Hiep in Saigon in 1967 to a Vietnamese woman and an African-American GI. She lived with her mother until the age of nine and was responsible for much of the care of her two younger siblings. She was adopted into a family in La Habra, California, and now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she works as a nurse. She returned to Vietnam with her husband, ARDIES and now plans to introduce her estranged birth mother to her children.
JODI LEE WHITE started life as Ho Bich Ngoc in Vung Tau, Vietnam 29 years ago. She was adopted in Angleton, Texas but currently lives in the “valley” of Los Angeles county where she dreams of a career as a singer/songwriter. “Hold On,” the final song in the film, was written and performed by Jodi.
JENNIFER ARIAS was found on the doorstep at Queen of Peace Orphanage in Saigon and named Phuong Hong Lan by the Catholic nuns there. She and Todd Adamson felt an immediate attraction when they met on the Motherland trip to Vietnam and plan to be married on November 3rd, 2001, in the city where she was adopted, Virginia Beach, VA.
SAUL TRAN CORNWALL was born Tran La, with a cleft palette and cleft lip and was only five days old when his mother died. Unable to care for him, his father brought him to Holt’s orphanage. He was adopted by Judy and Jack Cornwall of Portland, Oregon, and currently teaches other Vietnamese adoptees about their heritage and counsels refugees in Seattle.
ELIZABETH SOWLES, adopted in Portland, Oregon, was a tiny girl when she left Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Xuan 26 years ago. She cried during her first trip back to Tu Du Maternity Hospital in Saigon where she was left in October, 1974. Liz has written and spoken frequently about her emotional trip back.
PATRICIA SNIDER, born Nguyen Thi Tram, was one of the many Vietnamese children stricken with polio. She was adopted by a large family in Mesa, Arizona, where she grew up. On the trip back to Vietnam, she was reunited with JANICE ANNAL, a Scottish nurse who cared for her at Holt’s Center for Malnourished Infants in Da Nang and immediately recognized her at the reunion.
ARYN LOCKHART survived the crash of the first Operation Babylift flight and now lives in Albuquerque, NM. She sought out COL. REGINA AUNE, medical director of the C5, who rescued many victims at the crash site despite her own serious injuries. The two have become fast friends and are seen revisiting the C5 cargo plane with the pilot in PRECIOUS CARGO.
Others featured include:
JOHN WILLIAMS has vivid memories of his first year with Holt International Children’s Services in Saigon, including the evacuation of orphanages and the first Air Force Babylift flight which crashed in April 4, 1975. Now President of Holt, he speaks knowledgeably about inter-country adoption and travels frequently to Vietnam, Korea, India and Latin America from his headquarters in Eugene, Oregon.
TRINH THI NGO, a.k.a. “Hanoi Hannah,” broadcast to American troops from
Hanoi during the war. Now retired from radio broadcasting and living in Ho Chi Minh City, she shares her sharp observations and sometimes bitter memories in the film.
BETTY TISDALE, who raised money to support An Lac Orphanage in Saigon, adopted five Vietnamese baby girls in the 1970’s. She has formed a new organization, HALO, and is still actively involved with postwar Vietnam’s children from her home in Seattle.
PHAM XUAN AN, a Time Magazine correspondent from 1965-75, was later found to be a double agent. He lives quietly in retirement in Saigon where he recalled life around the Continental Palace Hotel during the war and the girls he “protected.”
COL. DENNIS “BUD” TRAYNOR, pilot of the first Operation Babylift flight, spent years in court going through detailed accounts and the debris of the crash. Because of multiple lawsuits against Lockheed and the U.S. government, he was only recently free to speak about his experience. Now retired from the US Air Force, he lives in Washington, D.C.
About the Filmmakers
Producer/Director JANET GARDNER is an award-winning documentary producer known for her work on Southeast Asia. Her most recent film was Dancing Through Death: The Monkey, Magic & Madness of Cambodia, a documentary on the devastating effect of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge reign on Cambodian dancers and their centuries-old tradition of storytelling. Other films include the PBS documentary A World Beneath the War, which showed the Vietnam War from the villagers’ point of view; Vietnam: Land of the Ascending Dragon, which provided an overview of Vietnamese history and culture from post-war Vietnam to the present; The United Nations: It’s More Than You Think; and two series on runaway children, Children of the Night and Starting Over.
Ms. Gardner’s interest in Southeast Asia began when she covered post-war Vietnam for two New Jersey dailies and contributed to The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Nation. She is a veteran of NBC’s The Today Show, WNBC’s NewsCenter 4, WRC’s News4 Washington and The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Producer PHAM QUOC THAI came to the U.S. in 1971 to attend the State University of New York at Buffalo. He joined The Gardner Documentary Group as an assistant producer in 1992 for the production of Vietnam: Land of the Ascending Dragon. As an associate producer, he collaborated with The Gardner Documentary Group on A World Beneath the War, a PBS special about the secret tunnels of Vietnam. The program won a Silver Apple at the National Educational Film & Video Festival, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Historical Programming, and was broadcast worldwide by Discovery International.
In 2001, the Independent Service (ITVS) celebrates a decade of television for a change. ITVS will mark its 10th anniversary this summer with special screenings at film festivals and retrospectives at major museums, including the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a month-long July retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (for a complete list of anniversary events, please log on to www.itvs.org). Public television stations around the country, including WNET and KQED, will also be saluting ITVS with special anniversary programming. In addition, a record number of ITVS productions – five – will premiere this summer on the PBS series P.O.V., including the recent Sundance Film Festival award winner, SCOUT’S HONOR.
Since its inception in 1991, programs produced by ITVS have transformed, reinvented and revitalized the relationship between the public and public television. From ground-breaking series like THE FARMER’S WIFE and AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY to specials including Emmy Award winners SING FASTER: THE STAGEHANDS’ RING CYCLE; SCHOOL PRAYER: A COMMUNITY AT WAR; GIRLS LIKE US and NOBODY’S BUSINESS, and Peabody Award-winners TRAVIS, A HEALTHY BABY GIRL, COMING OUT UNDER FIRE and THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, ITVS productions have dared to bring TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. In the process, ITVS has changed minds, opened hearts, inspired dialogue and brought viewers out of the box and into their communities and communities they might never have known about.
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Contact: Mary Lugo (email@example.com)