"Refugee," Joel Foreman's documentary about Vietnamese immigrants living in the Washington area, is poorly organized and full of irritating tics, but it has a moving, troubling story to tell, and in many instances, it tells it well. The half-hour tape airs at 10 tonight on Channel 26; a station-produced follow-up, at 10:30, was not screened.
For the Vietnamese who fled their country when war tore it to bits, America is the proverbial land of opportunity, but only within limits. A young Vietnamese man who was on his way to a law degree in his own country is now reduced to stacking trays at a National Airport restaurant. His reluctance to complain to the camera is only one of the heartbreakers in this report.
On the other hand, a cook at an Arlington hamburger joint reports that some of his customers resent the many Vietnamese who have settled in the area. When he tells such people that their own parents may have been immigrants, the cook says, they respond, "I don't care what they went through." At Wakefield High School, students say they are frustrated by the way the Vietnamese resist assimilation and keep to themselves.
The documentary is cluttered with too many visual gimmicks and too many legands that scamper up the screen, and is awkwardly subdivided into sections like "Entry Point" and "Background." This material hardly lends itself to the cutes and fortunately they lose out, in the end, to the dignity and poignance of the people on the screen.