REFUGEE

War & Cambodia

The Film

Mike Siv, with arms crossed, stares seriously at the camera.

The three guys, graduated on the steps, fool around with hands on one another’s shoulders.

Mike, arm in arm, reunited with his younger brother.

“My name is Michael Siev. I’m 24 years old. I was born in Cambodia, but at about the age of three, my mom and I escaped to America. I don’t remember about the war, about how me and her escaped, about my dad and my brother staying behind. As far back as I can remember, [it was] coming out of an airplane and being in America.”

For Mike Siv, the trip begins innocently enough: "Me and my homies, David and Paul, we're going to Cambodia. We'll see the sights, visit family, have some fun." In REFUGEE, these three young men, raised on the streets of San Francisco's tough Tenderloin district, return to Cambodia for the first time since they fled with their families as young children. But after their journey, they will never be the same.

The film revolves around Mike, a gregarious 24-year-old who moves easily between worlds—the street corner and the college campus; Cambodian and American cultures. He and his mother came to the United States in 1979, during the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. It was a horrific time, with the country still devastated from the Vietnam War and in chaos from the bloody regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. To escape further bloodshed, Mike and his mom escaped, leaving his dad and younger brother behind.

In his teenage years Mike flirted with street life in the Tenderloin, where he and his mother settled as refugees. Now enrolled in college, Mike, along with his friends Paul Meas and David Mark, decided to return to Cambodia to meet his long-lost father and brother. The trip seems ordinary at first, with a whirlwind of vaccines, passports, visas and gift buying. However, even before the plane takes off, the journey takes an unexpected turn. Right before Mike's departure, his mother reveals some shocking news from Cambodia: his father is remarried, has another family and his younger brother Nang was raised by an aunt. Mike's vision of his family is shattered. As he puts it, "That's a whole lotta truth. I learned more about my family in that one hour than I heard in my whole life." Shaken up, but still determined to carry on with his original plan, Mike boards the plane.

The reunion turns out to be a happy, yet strange moment. For the first time ever, Mike knows what it feels like to call someone "Dad" and to see the smile of recognition on his younger brother's face. Knowing he only has a few precious days with his father, he tries to live in the moment and enjoy their time together. Yet he is haunted by questions from the past. What was the true reason the family was separated? What really happened at the Thai border the day Mike and his mother escaped? Is there a more painful truth underneath the facade?

Mike Siv and his father live on opposite sides of a chasm wrought by emotion and history. In between lies a minefield of political upheaval, military invasion, years of being apart and living in different worlds. In REFUGEE, a simple reunion becomes a journey of discovery in this film about families, war, separation and ultimately, acceptance.

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