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Enforcing the Silence: Unlocking a 30-year-old mystery by Tony Nguyen

Published on: February 3, 2015

Filed Under: Film

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Unlocking a 30-year-old murder mystery, ENFORCING THE SILENCE explores how the Vietnam War continued in America.
Documentarian: Tony Nguyen

ABOUT THIS PROJECT:

ENFORCING THE SILENCE is an hour-long documentary that explores silence and loss in the story of a young community worker who may have been murdered for expressing his political beliefs.

Lam Duong founded the Vietnamese Youth Development Center in San Francisco and published a liberal newspaper that reprinted stories from communist Vietnam following the Vietnam War. On July 21, 1981, the 27-year-old was shot dead outside his apartment in broad daylight. Local police have never convicted anyone in the killing, so the motive remains unknown. But within days of Lam’s murder, news spread that a shadowy, anti-communist group had claimed responsibility, sending a chilling message to Vietnamese refugees everywhere: stay in line with your political views or risk death. Between 1982 and 1990, five more Vietnamese Americans – four of them journalists – were violently killed, many believe for political reasons. Vietnamese journalists are the largest group of immigrant reporters murdered on U.S. soil, claiming five lives out of the ten immigrant journalists that have been killed in America since 1981. All the Vietnamese murders were linked to a terrorist group in the Vietnamese American community, but police and federal officials have yet to solve any of the cases, including Lam’s.

Thirty years later, new filmmaker Tony Nguyen unlocks the mystery of Lam Duong’s life and death, and uncovers truths that Vietnamese Americans have never publicly explored. For the first time on film, Lam’s loved ones, federal investigators, and present-day journalists speak out about their experiences and reveal the risks that Vietnamese Americans have faced for exercising their first amendment rights in the U.S.

Mixing personal interviews with startling historical and present-day footage, ENFORCING THE SILENCE provides a disturbing in-depth look at a war-torn community that continues to struggle to find its place in a democratic society. As America finds itself entrenched in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, this film offers fresh insight into the long-term costs of war.

THE STORY BEHIND THE FILM:

Since the late 1990s I have had the privilege to work in Vietnamese American communities in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area in the fields of youth work and community organizing. Throughout my years of activism I have always been warned by other Vietnamese Americans to watch what I say and do, that people in the community have been killed for expressing views that were perceived as “pro-communist.” Driven to find out the truth, I began researching the reported assassinations of Vietnamese Americans in 2005 and discovered that since 1981, ten immigrant journalists have been murdered in the U.S., and that five of them were of Vietnamese descent. The first murder victim was a 27-year-old named Lam Duong, whose story left an indelible impression on me. Here was a young man whose liberal views didn’t seem too different from some of my Vietnamese American friends or from that of my own. Was Lam and other Vietnamese Americans really killed for exercising their free speech? Wasn’t freedom the main reason my community fled communist Vietnam?” Deeply moved and shocked by what I was discovering, I felt compelled to share this forgotten history with a broader audience but didn’t know exactly how.

Then in winter 2008, I came up with the idea of making a documentary about this subject. I had never made a film before, but I had a three-month sabbatical from my prior workplace coming up that summer. I decided to use my sabbatical to learn the basics of video production and to begin a journey to understand Lam Duong’s life and death, and what had happened in my community. I thought I could film, edit, and release the film in about a year and half. Little did I know it wouldn’t be that simple.

Nearly three years have passed since I began this project. This year 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of Lam Duong’s death and I am pleased to have a final cut of the film ready for audiences to see. Making this film has been a kind of dual discovery process for me – one that involved unearthing and unpacking a complicated story while trying to figure out how to shoot, edit, and finance and distribute a film.

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