Survival Story

Minneapolis-based Eau Claire grad explores Hmong experience on film

Lauren Fisher

From a cinematic perspective, Minneapolis-based filmmaker Bryan Vue found that Gran Torino, the 2008 Clint Eastwood and Bee Vang film in which an old, bitter Korean War veteran befriends a Hmong neighborhood that suffers the presence of a violent gang, was a fascinating movie. But from his own perspective as a Hmong person, Vue was disappointed in the portrayal of Hmong people in the film.

“Through movies I’ve been able to develop a deeper connection with myself,” he said. Bruce Lee films made him feel connected with another Asian person while he was growing up in Eau Claire, where he often felt isolated. Watching Gran Torino, which heavily featured a Hmong gang, made Vue feel misrepresented.

“(The film is) my own personal challenge, and It’s something I want to leave behind for my own kids and for young Hmong people, who have lost connection with the old world.” – filmmaker Bryan Vue, on The Stranger

“That film just kind of sparked something in me,” Vue said. “If we don’t make movies, if we don’t tell stories, someone else is going to and they will tell it the way they want to.”

Vue’s latest film, The Stranger, will show at the Eau Claire AMC Theater at Oakwood Mall at 7pm Saturday, Feb. 22. Based on his short film of the same name from more than 10 years ago, The Stranger tells the story of a child refugee from Laos living the American Dream as an adult, until tragedy strikes and leaves him with a great loss, a broken marriage, and a mysterious stranger on his doorstep claiming to be his long-lost brother.

Through Steve’s relationship with his brother, he discovers his past, how it impacts who he is now, and where he is going.

“(The film is) my own personal challenge, and It’s something I want to leave behind for my own kids and for young Hmong people who have lost connection with the old world,” Vue said.

The film is about what it means to be bicultural and bilingual while dealing with the problems of the present within the context of past trauma. Vue uses the film to teach about the Hmong American experience of refugees, touching on the history, culture, and spirituality of his community. Many people in the United States have never heard of the Hmong people, Vue said.

A scene from The Stranger.
A scene from The Stranger.

“I want to do something that will give young people something to look up to and remember by, and help my non-Hmong friends and counterparts and neighbors better understand who we are,” he said.

Kicking off the film tour in Eau Claire is a way for Vue to thank the community he grew up in. A 1988 graduate of Memorial High School, Vue has family and friends in the area who he wants to see his work.

Attending film school after high school was not a practical choice for Vue, who instead pursued psychology and social work at UW-Madison. He is now a social worker in Minnesota, dedicated to improving peoples’ lives.  He believes that his films can provide a different kind of help than his work can.

After screening the original short 12 years ago, Vue was approached by a young man who told him the film had saved his life. Having a better understanding of what his parents had gone through as refugees, and watching the story about self-preservation and the triumph of the spirit, helped the young man overcome his thoughts of self-harm.

“That was my signal to keep going,” Vue said. “I’ve got to keep telling these stories because if I can touch one person out of a hundred, I can feel like I’m succeeding.”

Tickets for The Stranger are available online at Doors open at 6:45pm on Saturday, Feb. 22.