Mai’s America


A spunky, mini-skirted daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s revolution leaves cosmopolitan Hanoi on a high school exchange program. Anticipating Hollywood, Mai crash lands in rural Mississippi…where her relationships with white Pentecostal and black Baptist host families, self-proclaimed rednecks, transvestites, and South Vietnamese immigrants challenge her long-held ideas about herself, about freedom, about America, and even about Vietnam.

72 minutes


  • Distinguished Documentary Achievement Feature Documentary, IDA
  • Audience Award for Feature Documentary, SXSW
  • Golden Gate Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Northampton Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Magnolia Independent Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Indie Memphis
  • Best of Festival, Wine Country Film Festival





  • IFP Showcase, Berlin Film Festival, European Film Market
  • Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC
  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival, CA
  • South by Southwest Film Festival, TX
  • New England Film and Video Festival, MA
  • Chicago Showcase of Asian American Film, IL
  • Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, PA
  • Visions du Reel, Switzerland
  • Tribeca Film Festival, NYC
  • NAATA May Asian American Film Showcase, San Francisco
  • Egyptian Theater, Los Angeles
  • Aurora Asian Film Festival, Colorado
  • Newport International Film Festival, RI
  • Waterfront Film Festival, MI
  • Florida Film Festival, FL
  • Provincetown International Film Festival, MA
  • Manchester Film Festival, VT
  • Wine Country Film Festival, CA
  • Southern Girls Convention, GA
  • Institute of Visual Communications, Los Angeles
  • A-Fest Asian American Film Festival, Seattle
  • Picture Start Film Festival – Providence, RI
  • Roxbury Film Festival, MA
  • Cinemanila Int’l Film Festival, Philippines
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Pawtucket Film Festival, RI
  • The Northwest Film Forum, First Person Cinema Series, Seattle
  • Indie Memphis, TN
  • Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, AK
  • Bangkok Film Festival, Thailand
  • Lower Eastside Girls Club Film Festival, NYC
  • Northampton Film Festival, MA
  • The Florida Room’s Documentary Film Festival, Miami
  • IDA DocuFest, CA
  • Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montreal, Canada
  • Cinema Paradise Film Festival, HI
  • UNIFEM Women’s Int’l Film Festival, FL
  • Magnolia Film Festival, MS
  • DocuFest, NC
  • Women’s Film Festival, VT
  • Women in the Director’s Chair, Chicago
  • East Lansing Film Festival, MI
  • Chatham Film Series, MA
  • Santa Fe Film Society, NM
  • Fitchburg Film Festival, MA
  • IFP “New Directors/New Frontiers” Series – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, Canada
  • Council on Foundations Film Festival, Dallas
  • Appreciating Diversity Film Series, Oakland, CA
  • Asian Film Festival of Dallas, TX
  • National Women’s Association Conference, New Orleans
  • Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, NY
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, “The American Effect” Exhibit, NYC
  • Austin Film Society, TX
  • The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Film Series, Harvard University, MA
  • Seoul Independent Documentary Film & Video Festival, Korea
  • International Ethnographic Film Festival Rio, Brazil
  • Woods Hole Film Festival Dinner and a Movie Series, Cape Cod
  • Real Art Ways Family Film Festival, CT
  • Freeze Frame International Film Festival, Canada
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
  • ViewFinders International Film Festival for Youth, Halifax, Canada
  • Asian Heritage Festival, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Women of Color Film Festival, NYC


“Best Festival Film of 2002″
—Ella Taylor, LA Weekly

“Best Documentary Film of 2002″
—Gerald Peary, The Boston Phoenix

“Honorable Mention: Ten Best Films of the Year”
—Wendy Mitchell, IndieWIRE

“Ten Best TV Shows of the Year…The apex of the P.O.V. documentary series on PBS”
—Aaron Barnhart, The TV Barn

“The extraordinarily insightful and tender MAI’S AMERICA…is a charming and eye-opening film that could be one of the year’s best documentaries.”
—Steve Rosen, The Denver Post

“Best Undistributed Film of 2002″
—Paul Malcolm, LA Weekly

“The one film in the (Whitney Museum American Effect exhibit) to truly win hearts and minds is Mai’s America.  An unusually shapely first-time effort by an American…Mai’s story, a two way mirror reflecting both American and Vietnamese provinciality, is damned near impossible to forget.”
—Linda Yablonsky, Time Out NY

“A brilliant look at American social class through the eyes of a Vietnamese exchange student…Mai’s America is one of those wonderful, out-of-left-field documentaries that makes writing about independent films such an educational delight. It follows a North Vietnamese teen-ager as she arrives in the United States on a student exchange program. And while she discovers that almost everything she thought she knew about America was wrong, it’s the American viewer who has the most to learn about our land of opportunity.  An amazing effort by a first-time filmmaker.”
—David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun

“Astonishing.  This most unlikely story about a Vietnamese exchange student in the Deep South is by turns hilarious, voyeuristic, wise, bizarre and sadly ironic.”
—Aaron Barnhart, The Kansas City Star

“An amazing movie, and one you should see if you haven’t already, which you probably have.”
—Shawn Badgley, The Austin Chronicle

“★★★1/2  Mai’s America is full of interesting observations about Vietnamese culture, the Vietnam War, how Americans treats foreigners, gender notions, and the rivalry between a mother and daughter.”
—Doug Brunell, Film Threat

“Unusual and fascinating.”
—Matt Zoller Seitz, The Star Ledger

“Coming across like a real-life “Alice in Wonderland,” (Mai’s America) reveals a succession of characters too strange not to be true…Poras’ expert camera work and editing tell the story in a compelling and amusing manner…Poras’ portraiture of Mai is a magnificent trip through her own looking glass, providing a stunning reflection of American values.”
—R.A.Bell, The Orlando Weekly

“At once an intimate portrait of a guileless Vietnamese high school exchange student from Hanoi, and an understated expose of the American Dream…Richer in plot, character and setting then most feature films, this intellectually satisfying and emotional film is highly recommended.”
The Video Librarian

“A moving and delightful documentary about self-discovery…the film features a story line that is at times wacky and amusing yet also bitterly ironic…a sharp and eye-opening film.”
—Suzanne Ryan, The Boston Globe

“I love this film…it has grown so powerful in my memory in the days after I’ve seen it, that I can’t help but gush. I wanted to stop this movie. To freeze time and jump into the celluloid.”
Ain’t it cool news

“★★★1/2 With subjects as unusual and perverse as any found in Errol Morris, Mai’s America…reaches a level of quiet brilliance and universality that is difficult to articulate. Mai’s America is what the documentary format can accomplish: a fascinating topic guided by a keen eye and an invaluable bit of cultural anthropology.”
Film Freak Central

“Fascinating. This is a story where the political intertwines with the personal, but Poras refrains from preaching to the viewer.  She doesn’t need to get up on a soapbox; Mai’s experience says it all.”
—Amy Kroin, The Valley Advocate

“Marlo Poras found a treasure trove of material in the sojourn of North Vietnamese teenager and exchange student Mai…With at least two years of shooting time, plus absolutely amazing editing, Poras makes something very challenging look quite seamless…Poras captures Mai’s straight-ahead honesty about herself and her feelings and assembles the material in such a gripping narrative style.”
—Bill Rodriguez, The Providence Phoenix

“★★★★ Mai’s America is a marvelous documentary bursting with insights on Vietnam and America that will amaze members of both cultures.”
—Charles Martin, Box Office Online

“Sharp, rigorously focused and vastly entertaining.”
—Milton Tabbot, Tribeca Film Festival

“Insightful and bittersweet, the film provides an unexpected picture of America through the eyes of a charming, candid heroine.”
—Tini Tran, Associated Press

“Filmmaker Poras’ camera is so unobtrusive, it is apparent that the documentary’s subjects forgot it was there recording their words and movement…this draws viewers into Mai’s world.”
—Samantha Bonar, Los Angeles Times

“TV Pick of the Week: Anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider will identify with Vietnamese exchange student Mai on her first visit to the U.S.”
—Derek Thomas, LA Weekly 

“Mai’s America demonstrates Ms. Poras’ skill in finding the moments that matter and punctuating them with a sparkling wit. The success of the film is all the more remarkable for the fact that Mai’s America is Ms. Poras’ first documentary…The result is only the best debut documentary I’ve seen in years.”
—Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central

“Funny and sad, bitter and sweet…The most interesting film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year.”
—Fiona Ng, indieWIRE

“…a quite majestic, beautiful, and tragic film.”
—Clay Smith, The Austin Chronicle

“Riveting…It is a shopworn cliche that outsiders often give us the truest picture of our lives, but in Mai’s America that truism is indisputable.”
—Felicia Feaster, Creative Loafing Atlanta

“Poras and Mai shine light on the people that make up the majority of this country, yet are as invisible to the media as are ants in the sand…Poras divulges who we are, but she doesn’t judge us.”
—Dave Perry, The Aurora Sentinel

“They don’t write them better than this.”


  • EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: David Sutherland
  • EDITOR: Michele Gisser
  • MUSIC: Jim Anderson, Nguyen Le, Jason Poras
  • ON-LINE EDITOR: Gene Bone
  • SOUND MIX: Jim Sullivan


  • ITVS
  • The LEF Foundation
  • The Women in Film Foundation Film Finishing Fund / Dockers Khakis for Women Independent Vision Grant