After a grueling ten month stint in New York City as an Apprentice Editor to Thelma Schoonmaker at Scorsese's Cappa Productions, I was ready to get away and have my own adventure. I decided to visit a friend who was living in Hanoi, Vietnam and was enthralled with the country from the moment I stepped off the plane.
I think I was destined to meet an intriguing group of North Vietnamese high school students preparing to study in the States. When I was their age, I went to France as a foreign exchange student, so I was able to connect with them on many levels. I became their American cultural studies teacher and saw that the idea of "America" had clearly captured their imagination. Their own fathers had won the war against America, the most powerful nation on earth. Rich in a coin that had no value, the students were planning to spend their senior year of high school there. I found myself wishing I could be a fly on the wall when they arrived, so I decided to become one.
But there were 23 of them and one of me. How to choose? I winnowed it down to 4. I filmed each of them in Hanoi for two months and then for a week each when they arrived in the States. One was placed with an Iranian woman in Washington state, one with a very religious Christian family in the Illinois farmlands, another on a Hopi Indian reservation with a Caucasian family, and of course, Mai.
And then I was hit with a major reality check - this was my first film and I was funding it with the dwindling savings from the money I had earned in New York. There was just no way I could travel around the United States following all of them - I had to narrow the film down to one subject. I easily chose Mai because of how natural and comfortable she was in front of the camera, and because of her enchanting mixture of wisdom and innocence, bravery and humor. After that, I never looked back.