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The Secret War: AU student shines light on Laos crisis


American University


The Secret War: AU student shines light on Laos crisis

The lasting effects of the bombings in Laos

Emily Wasielewski


Erin McGoff is making the most of her last semester at AU. After traveling to Laos on alternative break, she decided to create a documentary exposing the horrors still occurring in Laos years after the United States covertly, and heavily, bombed the country. We sat down with Erin to talk about her film This Little Land of Mines, the issues she hopes to tackle, and what we can do to help.

Tell us about yourself! How did you get interested in filmmaking?

Hello! My name is Erin McGoff and I’m a film major here at American graduating this May. I’m from a big, adventurous, and creative family in Silver Spring, MD. I grew up singing and playing classical piano and guitar, but discovered my love for film when I started making music videos for clients of my family’s recording studio. I always really loved score composition (the orchestral music in movies) but originally came to college wanting to work as a production coordinator for NBC (I did theater in high school). My freshman year, I was in the B.S. Film & Video program at Drexel University, then transferred to Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, then transferred here.

Can you explain exactly what has happened in Laos and why it is still an issue to this day?

During the Vietnam War era, the United States bombed Laos more heavily than any country in the world during a covert, nine year secret war. Few people know about this because the U.S. government kept it under wraps. The issue today is that 30% of the bombs (80 million) that were dropped 40 years ago didn’t explode upon impact and still kill and maim hundreds of Laotians every year.

When did you first learn about this crisis in Laos?

I first learned about the Secret War in Laos last year when I applied for an Alternative Break Program to Laos. I couldn’t believe it. My first trip to Laos was in high school when I went on vacation there with my family. The Laotians were so kind and welcoming. The whole time we were there, my family and I had no idea what destruction our country had waged on them.

Why is this something we, as AU students, should care about?

I think there are two main reasons this documentary is relevant to AU students and our generation as a whole. First, we are one of the first generations to truly learn about the Vietnam War as a historical event. It’s up to us to make sure it’s told right and the U.S. government is held accountable. It’s time to take a stand and declare that we are not the type of country to carpet bomb innocent civilians for nine years and forget about them. The second reason to care is simply because I’m your colleague! I’ll be an American alumnus of the film program in May and am dedicating myself entirely to the production of this documentary. By contributing, you get your name in the credits of a project that could potentially change the way people talk about the Vietnam War.

What are your goals for this documentary?

The first goal is awareness. This massive historical event (and present issue) has been swept under the rug and buried in history. Nothing can be done until a conversation has been started, and in order for people to talk about something, they need to know about it. My second goal with this documentary is to find effective and efficient solutions to help Laos rid their country of 80 million bombs. A huge chunk of my documentary explores ways the United States can help other than just throwing money at the problem. What can we engineer or how can we empower local Lao to help expedite the cleaning-up process safely? In the past 40 years, less than 1% of the UXO (unexploded ordnance) in Laos have been cleared.

How can we help support this documentary?

Like the Facebook, share the trailer and contribute to the Indiegogo--then ask your friends to contribute! I have Laotians message me everyday expressing how much the making of this documentary means to them; they’re so happy Americans are finally talking/learning about it. So every time someone donates or likes the page, you’re already making a difference. But, it is also a 75 minute film and the budget is $50,000, so contributing financially (or asking your parents to) is a huge help.

(This Little Land of Mines trailer)