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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Film covers local shooting
Wednesday 02 February @ 17:58:29
Area documentarians try to bring communities together
by Allison Herrera
While 2005 is well underway, three Twin Cities filmmakers are revisiting one of the major news stories of 2004, the deaths of six Wisconsin hunters at the hands of alleged gunman Chai Vang of the area’s Hmong community. Now Mark Tang, Theresa Konechne and Mark Ehling are creating a documentary about the incident and the subsequent trial, a documentary whose ending no one knows.
Vang, 36, is jailed and charged with killing six hunters and injuring two others
Nov. 21 in a confrontation that began with racial slurs and turned violent. The
national media coverage of the shootings resulted in a great deal of hostility
between the Hmong and white communities, and these filmmakers want to examine
the stereotypes and myths that have caused such hostility.
Mark Tang, who has been a filmmaker for over 20 years, immigrated here from China,
where he also made films. His work has always focused on the story behind the
story, which is what drew him to the Chai Vang incident. His previous films include
“Dawn at 16,” about a Laotian boy living in juvenile detention, and
“Remembrance,” about an elderly man living in Philadelphia—both
films in which he sought to give his subjects a voice.
“The impetus for me to do this project and the other films on which I’ve
worked is that I’m interested in showing people what is behind the news,
what’s behind the surface,” Vang said. “We discover that the
people and communities we tend to overlook are not very different from us. They
have their hopes and dreams as well.”
The impetus for working on this project was not the crime itself, Tang said, but
ultimately to see beyond the media coverage and to dig into the ethnic tensions
brought to the surface by the case; for example, he interviewed Hmong hunters
who experienced prejudice from local white people even before the shootings took
Tang and his colleagues do not want Wisconsin’s rural white population to
see them as trying to dig up dirt—one reason Tang wanted to work with white
filmmakers such as Theresa Konechne. He feels that his position as an immigrant
may color his views on the project and make people less willing to tell their
stories. But there is one point on which he thinks all parties involved can agree:
the media has done everyone a disservice.
Konechne is no stranger to working on projects that seek to examine the filmmaker’s
role as an activist. She just finished a film about an African-American community
in Virginia called, “This Black Soil,” an endeavor that took almost
five years to complete. The film delves into the lives of people in a poor, rural
community who fought a prison complex and went on to produce a successful housing
corporation. “This community decided that ruining where they lived for the
sake of jobs wasn’t worth it,” she said.
She also feels her background as a rural South Dakotan gives her an insight into
the community affected in her current project. She has been an activist for a
long time and feels that media can be an important tool for communication and
understanding, especially in this case.
“My hope for this film is that it will foster compassion, understanding,
reconciliation and healing.”
“This is not just about one person or one community that has been hurt,”
Tang said. “The Wisconsin rural population lost fathers and brothers. And
because of all the racial overtones brought up by the media, both sides are going
to feel they’re on trial.”
This was evident immediately following the shootings when a group of Hmong citizens
called a press conference in East St. Paul to offer condolences to the victims
and state they did not condone Vang’s actions.
Mark acknowledged that in this incident people from the rural community think
differently about people from the city.
“When I’m talking to people I try to remind them, it’s not just
about Hmong people or white people. If you’re Japanese or Chinese, you’re
not immune. And if you’re white you’re not immune either.”
In the end, he and his crew want to foster a dialogue between these two polarized
communities. Many people have already begun a dialogue about race relations in
this part of Wisconsin, and Tang and his colleagues want to involve those people
in the film’s outcome.
“Once it’s finished, its important to have a grassroots distribution
plan, one that is controlled by the community members affected by these events,”
Konechne said. “They can screen the work and hopefully dialogue together.
That’s our goal.”
They want it to portray the point of view of both sides, which in the end are
not much different from one another.
“It’s about the American dream,” Tang said. “Everyone
who lives here has that. Especially if you’re an immigrant. And when you
see yourself represented in negative ways, stereotypes, etc., we all stand to
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