Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) (Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath, 2008) is not a typical documentary. More than most docs, it attempts to- and succeeds in- telling its story through images more than words, and that works for the most part. It's an interweaving of recent interviews with amazing footage captured in the 1980's when Kuras first started following her Lao tutor, Thavi (co-director Phrasavath) with a camera. Nerakhoon dramatically reveals long-buried and/or never-revealed ugly secrets of US imperialism and dirty work that left allies abandoned and families in ruin, in particular that of Thavi. To that end, it's also the story of botched patriarchy and how political betrayal ruined his father and eventually his family. The doc also reveals truths about new refugees in the US, the living conditions of new immigrants and the price of assimilation. Are things really better for refugees once they reach the US? Does their chance for survival truly increase? It's a story of multiple betrayals, what we're willing to forgive, who we trust.
Once the family gets to the US, the doc moves seamlessly back and forth between Laos and US, between 1984 and the present, requiring its audience to find clues to figure out where we are, why we're there. From Ellen Kuras we expect beautiful images, and she delivers. There are a lot of orange robes of novices, Buddhism all over the place. And then there is unexpected and horrible community destruction due to gang coersion and involvement of young new immigrants. What emerges is a highly compelling collaboration between documentarian and subjects, revealing the interconnectedness of humanity.