2009 Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature
2009 Independent Spirit Award Nominee for Best Documentary
“The Betrayal” (Nerakhoon), tells the story of Thavisouk Phrasavath and his family’s journey from war-torn Laos to the streets of New York. Filmed over the course of 23 years, Phrasavath gives a first-hand account of his own boyhood survival of war, his later escape from persecution and arrest in Laos, his reunion with his family and their journey to America, and the second war they had to fight on the streets of New York City.
As its involvement in the Vietnam War deepened and conflict spilled into the surrounding territories, the U.S. clandestinely operated within Laotian borders. By 1973, almost 3 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos in the fight to overcome the North Vietnamese – more than were used during WWI and WWII combined. A former commander in the Royal Army, Phrasavath’s father is recruited (alongside thousands of his countrymen) by the CIA, and works intelligence along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When the U.S. withdraws from Laos, his father is declared an enemy of the state and sent to a hard labor re-education camp. Repeatedly arrested because of his father’s U.S. affiliation, 12-year-old Phrasavath leaves his family and Laos behind, swimming across the Mekong River on two inflated plastic bags to a refugee camp in Thailand. Reunited with his mother and siblings two years later, the family flees to the United States in 1981.
The family’s optimism evaporates after their American sponsors deposit them in a single cramped room in a crowded tenement building – right next door to a volatile crack house in Brooklyn, New York. Disoriented by the western culture and desperate to survive, Phrasavath and his mother try to imprint their eastern cultural values onto the younger children before the family disintegrates completely. Robbed of his own childhood, he tries to reunite his lost family in a world marked by borders and chaos.
After the screening, Thavisouk Phrasavath will talk about the issues of multiple betrayals within the film and the struggles to have his story told as an Asian American filmmaker. Moderated by Crystal Parikh, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and English at NYU.
Thavisouk Phrasavath is a creative consultant for developing Lao TV and other media. His background in community work includes assisting Gang Prevention for Youth and Family Crisis intervention through the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association and working with the police department as a liaison and interpreter for the Lao community dealing with domestic and gang-related issues. Formerly an Area Policy Board Member, Phrasavath has consulted for the NYC Board of Education.
His film work extends into writing, editing, directing and shooting. His projects as editor include Mira Sorvino’s directorial debut “Making Famous,” as well as “Summer School,” “Cuba Libre,” “Americanos,” “Streaming with the Prez,” “Vietnam on the Cusp,” “Sound Painting,” and most recently, “Golden Venture.” Prasavath graduated with honors from Pratt Institute with a degree in Electrical Engineering.
Crystal Parikh is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Department of English at New York University. She is the author of An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture.
Co-sponsored by: NYU Center for Media, Culture and History