By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
A fascinating documentary makes its World Channel debut tomorrow about the federal case against controversial Hmong American political figure Locha Thao and nine other Hmong American leaders including General Pao Vang, a former general in the Royal Lao Army.
Operation Popcorn is one of four films being showcased this month as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Filmmaker David Grabias produces his documentary using an extensive interview from Thao himself, as well as undercover audio and video from the federal investigation.
Thao came to the United States after spending time in a Thai refugee camp. He eventually would become an aide to three Wisconsin State Senators. He along with the others were accused of trying to overthrow the government in Laos. The motive–to free the Hmong still in Laos who the men say are being persecuted by the government there.
“Locha Thao is a person like I’ve never met before and probably will never meet again, said Grabias. In many ways I think he’s a classic 1.5 generation character (someone born overseas, but raised mostly here), caught between wanting to succeed in mainstream American culture, while still craving approval from the elders of his immigrant community.
“But on top of that, he’s a politician and a hustler with visions of grandeur. I think he gets himself into trouble by trying to please everyone but inevitably short-changing one side or the other.
Grabias is an award-winning filmmaker who’s previous film led to Operation Popcorn,Sentenced Home, an Emmy-nominated doc that he made for PBS about Cambodian Americans dealing with deportation. His film subjects ranges from Muslim kids memorizing the Quran to people who live with chimpanzees.He sees how people define their home as central to all his films.
Is your home an apartment or a house, is it a city, is it a culture, is it a group of people, is it a religion? What responsibility do you have towards your home? How you think of “home,” and what “home” means to you is really for me an incredibly powerful idea and concept, and I think now more than ever it is core to our making sense of the world,” he said to AsAmNews.
Grabias met Thao shortly after the indictment. He drove numerous times to the Central Valley town of Fresno, CA to spend time with Locha and his family to gain their trust and to get to know them as people. He sees Operation Popcorn as an extremely timely film. On one level, his film is a story about refugees. he says today’s refugess from Iraq and Afghanistan share much in common with the Hmong. He also draws similarities between Thao and a politician much in the news these days.
“I think Locha is a bit of a Donald Trump type figure , He’s vilified by a certain part of the community, who blame him for creating the whole mess and even for contributing to the death of General Vang Pao. But there’s another part of the community that respects him for trying to do something about the human rights situation in Laos, and who are fascinated by his celebrity and his ability to emerge apparently unscathed from
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