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This film grew out of a conversational experiment. First inspired by the ethical and institutional mission of the Michigan State University Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, committed to the promotion of inclusion and values of inclusivity, it culminated into a 10-day themed-event titled “The Place of Inclusive History, Memory of Cultural Minorities, and Human Rights in Academia, the Media and the Public Space”, held in March 2014. At its very core, it was an experiment designed to carry out a campus and community discussion on the meaning of social justice, human rights advocacy and inclusive writing of history – a conversation in which members of academia, global media and the community were to intervene as equal participants and infuse their unique perspectives.The theme specifically focused on the historical memory of the Hmong people of Laos. What sparked interest in pursuing this project for event organizer, Safoi Babana-Hampton, was the specific perspective on French colonial history brought by the documentary Guerre secrète au Laos (Secret War in Laos), a 2005 production of the French channel France2, directed by Grégoire Deniau and Cyril Payen. This documentary spotlighted stories that were erased from French colonial history, for international audiences, including a showing at MSU in March 2014. But as Cyril Payen, one of its directors, noted during his public talk at this event, the contemporary plight of the Hmong featured in Guerre secrète au Laos raised difficult ethical questions not only on how to deal with the legacy of the French colonial past, but also with the legacy of the conflict that inevitably followed it, the American Secret War in Laos, in which the Hmong were caught up after the end of French colonial rule in South-East Asia.The MSU event was part of a series of filmed interviews and events that marked the launch of the film production, during the 2013-2014 academic year, with the collaboration of campus, community, international partners and the sponsorship of several MSU programs. The original idea of telling the story of the Hmong diaspora in the United States and their remembrance of their fraught past snowballed into a much more ambitious film project to include perspectives from France and Laos as equally important and relevant contexts for understanding Hmong memory in a transnational frame.


Realizing this ambitious vision would not have been possible without the support provided by new institutional partnerships. The perfect and most appropriate forum for carrying this film project to its full potential was provided by the Humanities Without Walls Consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Consortium’s theme The Global Midwest created an exceptionally innovative intellectual and institutional framework within which researchers from the Midwest can craft projects that bring together scholarly, educational and community outreach concerns into fruitful dialogue and connect them in new ways. It was a distinct privilege for our project to be selected for funding by the Consortium among many meritorious and strong projects from other institutions in the Midwest, to contribute with a unique perspective to the Global Midwest theme.Thanks to the uniquely bold intellectual vision of the Humanities Without Walls Consortium – and its commitment to publicly engaged Humanities research and funding support – we were able to forge immensely valuable and new cross-institutional partnerships and to realize the full potential of the documentary project. Most importantly, the Humanities Without Walls made it possible to appropriately expand the frontiers of this conversational experiment to reflect on the meaning of research activity in the humanities, in ways that respond to current local and global challenges.In a world torn by an unprecedented rise of global violence and conflict since the Cold War it is hoped that this documentary can in a, very small way encourage healthy and constructive discussions in the classroom and in the local and global community around difficult subjects that often divide very good citizens, societies and nations.