In September 2016, Erin McGoff was a senior at the American University when she stumbled upon a special academic program titled “Economic Empowerment and Recovery in Post-Conflict Laos”. The program caught her eye because she had actually been to Laos—very briefly in high school as a tourist—and remembered it to be a beautiful country filled with rich culture, kind people, and delicious food. Reading further, she discovered something that would change everything: From 1964 to 1973, the United States secretly bombed Laos more heavily per capita than any country in history and 80 million unexploded bombs continue to kill innocent people. In immediate disbelief, she called her family and friends and asked if they knew about this, thinking that she had missed something in her history classes. But they were just as stunned as her to hear the story. It was the largest covert CIA operation in U.S. history—even Congress never knew about it.
She quickly realized that the Vietnam War was being taught wrong. As a millennial, she learned about this era in history classes and realized Laos was completely swept under the rug by the U.S. government. She wiggled her way into the academic program as a film major, feverishly and somewhat obsessively researched Laos for months, and was off to Laos to conduct field research. One day in northern Laos, she was out with a demining team (made up of mostly women) to observe how they find and destroy bombs. The sound of the explosion rippled through her like a time capsule opening up. She heard the sound Lao people heard, on average, every eight minutes for nine years straight. She felt relief that those bombs were destroyed, but also guilt that they were ever there in the first place. As they began to leave the site for the day, the deminers expressed their profound gratitude to Erin for coming all the way from American to study unexploded ordnance (UXO). Then the director of the team proceeded to share a Lao phrase that meant, “let us remember that we love each other more than than we hate each other.”
This was the moment Erin decided she was going to do whatever it took to make sure Lao people receive the acknowledgment and support they deserve. Americans are entitled to know about this, and Lao people deserve to be acknowledged.
The first step Erin took in making this film was finding people in Laos to work with. Her main mission was to have Lao people tell their stories and then distribute them to her peers in America. She partnered with Luang Prabang-based production company MALAO Studios and worked hard to raise enough money to make this film in the highest possible quality. Two and a half years later, they have a completed film ready to be used for good. It’s time for Americans (and the whole world) to #KnowAboutLaos.