The Betrayal

Eye on the Oscars: Documentaries

COUNTRY: U.S.

DIRECTOR: Ellen Kuras, a prolific cinematographer, makes her feature-film directorial debut with “The Betrayal.” Her co-director on the project, Thavisouk Phrasavath, is both subject and collaborator.

FINANCING: Self-financed by Kuras, the budget was augmented by various grants including the Sundance Doc Fund as well as in-kind contributions.

SUBJECT: Laotian exile Phrasavath and his family struggle for economic survival in the U.S., where their traditional values come into conflict with the pressures of cultural assimilation.

DISTRIB: Opened in November at Gotham’s Cinema Guild; national rollout to follow. Will air on PBS’ “P.O.V.” in 2009.

HELMER COMMENTS: “The (film) began as a political documentary and became a drama of family bonds and how those bonds are tested,” Kuras says. “Time has added so much to the film: The story’s trajectory, filmed over two decades, meant that things happened that I hadn’t expected to happen. We tried to keep that sense of awe and mystery, the same that we had as filmmakers when it was happening. We wanted to keep dramatic elements, rather than just reveal straightforward information. Because I have a bias toward visual metaphor, I wanted the words to come from the images. We give the audience the benefit of the doubt, and the images work on different levels, and they resonate.”

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