Musician Thao Nguyen Tells Mother’s Migration Story In ‘Nobody Dies’

In the summer of 2015, indie folk band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down took a trip to Vietnam during one of their tour dates to commemorate the 20th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam normalization.

San Francisco-based folk musician and songwriter Thao Nguyen’s new documentary “Nobody Dies,” funded by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and directed by Todd Krolczyk, chronicles Thao’s travels to Vietnam with her mother, Nhan Nguyen, who hadn’t returned since leaving as a refugee in 1973.

As the daughter of two immigrant parents who grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, this was Thao’s first time visiting the country and also her first seeing her mother in a whole new light.

“My career has been an ongoing experiment with being more forthright about my family and my biography,” Thao told KQED.

The documentary, which features Thao in both song and conversation, plays as a love letter to her mother. The 2015 trip, which culminated in her fifth album “Man Alive” — which both NPR and Paste Magazine named as one of the best albums of 2016 — saw Thao exploring the differences that have made an impact on her family and her music.

“My entire life, I’ve known my mom especially through the lens of a refugee and this working immigrant,” Thao said. “To see her navigate life the way she was in her old home and to see that kind of confidence … It was so incredible to see her have that kind of vibrancy in taking care of situations and being able to follow her lead.”

“Nobody Dies” broadcasts on PBS this fall. Check your local listings for more details.