In 1975, near the end of the Vietnam War, thousands of Amerasian children, the sons and daughters of American military men, were flown from Vietnam to the United States. Press stories about "Operation Babylift" claimed the children were orphans of war. In Daughter from Danang, we learn that many of them were given up by their Vietnamese families because of rumors that they would be harmed after the war--and because American relief workers shamelessly encouraged their abandonment by telling parents that their children would have a better life in America.

No one knows why the U.S. government conducted "Operation Babylift," and the filmmakers, Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, don't seem interested in discovering the reason, even though they open their film with disturbing scenes of distraught mothers and screaming children. The footage of the airlift turns out to be a cursory explanation for how one Amerasian child, Heidi Bub (Mai Thi Hiep to her Vietnamese mother), got to the United States. Dolgin and Franco picked up their beta camera for one purpose--to follow Heidi back to Vietnam. The resulting slice-of-life documentary is worthy of a segment on "Oprah."

Heidi, who is in her 30s, begins a search for her birth mother when the relationship with her adoptive mother turns sour. A self-centered, immature mother of two, she is married to a military careerist, her childhood sweetheart. He is one of the few people who has always known about his wife's Vietnamese mother. Heidi and her adoptive mother hid her Asian roots throughout her childhood in Pulaski, Tennessee (the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan). It's clear that this trip to Vietnam is the result of Heidi's lingering sense of abandonment, and her childish desire for a mother's unconditional love. If the filmmakers had done their job well, Heidi would be a sympathetic subject, but she's not. Her simpering disappointment at her Vietnamese mother--who is remorseful and happy to see her, but hardly able to fill Heidi's emotional void--is loathsome and anti-climactic.

Rather than focusing on her victimization, on indicting the American government and all of the forces that brought Heidi to where she is today--or finding others like Heidi who have given more thought to their plight--Dolgin and Franco chose the artless route to melodrama. Like the indifferent cameraman in Medium Cool who shoots the anti-war demonstrations in Chicago, alienated from the drama they represent, the filmmakers strove for the action of the moment, not the meaning or the subtext of Heidi's story, not the personal, psychological dimension, or the social one. There is no insight into the anguish of Heidi's life--only a depiction of pain, today's version of Greek tragedy, the talk-show guest decrying her fate.

--Maria Garcia