Searching for meaning in something as meaningless as the Vietnam War, will inevitably invoke poetry to make sense of it all.

The general and me

Tiana Alexandra-Silliphant

USA/Vietnam, 2017

Director, actor and lyricist Tiana Alexandra-Silliphant was born in Saigon, Vietnam, but fled to Virginia with her family as a child to escape the conflict that consumed her homeland.  Growing up as the first Vietnamese immigrant in her state, Silliphant was harassed by the children around her, who blamed her for the deaths of innocent Americans in the war. To protect herself, she chose to learn karate and, after some time, became Bruce Lee’s only female apprentice. Through her karate master, she was introduced to Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, which marks the start of her life as a documentary filmmaker. Spending more than twenty five years making a doc on Vietnam, it inevitably also became a film about own her life. Tiana’s deeply personal desire to understand the Vietnam War provides a completely unique depiction of the country’s modern history.

A unique perspective. Among the many incredible moments in this story is Silliphant’s friendship with the famed General Vo Nguyen Giáp. The reclusive Giáp, also known as the ‘red Napoleon’, owing to his singular efforts in Vietnam’s fight for freedom from both the French and the Americans, routinely refused visits by journalists. Or so Silliphant was told when she first went to see him. But she did not give up. She sent Giap a poem she’d written about the country’s sufferings and was surprised when, shortly afterwards, she received an invitation to meet the war hero in his home. This helps the documentary gain a perspective rarely seen in portrayals of the topic, as Silliphant and Giáp begin a lifelong friendship.

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