Precious Cargo (56 minutes)
Precious Cargo — Return to Vietnam (28 minutes)

Originally released in 2001, Precious Cargo was reissued in 2020 as a short film for submission to various film festivals.

At the end of the war hundreds of orphaned children, born in South Vietnam, were transported into American homes almost overnight in cities and suburbs across the nation. They soon became the beloved sons and daughters of close-knit American families.

They were warmly embraced, they wanted to belong, yet they knew they were somehow different. Strangers stopped them and asked of their origins. In many cases, they were unable to answer. Some, to this day, do not know their father or mother’s name. And it hurts.

Precious Cargo reveals the complex saga of the “babylift.” It is the last chapter of a war that tore their country apart. Yet it is not quite over for more than 2,000 children airlifted from Vietnam to the U.S. in 1975 who were given love and education, but most importantly, a new beginning.

Remi Winner • 54th Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival 2021

“Precious Cargo – Return to Vietnam” won a 2021 Gold Remi Award for Short Documentary at the 54th Annual External Website Link WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival

For our military, it seemed like a final act of redemption. To the new government in Hanoi, it was a propaganda ploy or a criminal act, tantamount to kidnapping. Other critics saw it as a last effort by the U.S. government to win sympathy and financial support for South Vietnam. But for most Americans, it was a final gesture in a war they wanted to forget.

International New York Times, Arts, Television Review. “When Those Orphaned by War Return to Vietnam” * By Julie Salamon, Published: December 22, 2001

Click the image above to view a pdf of the review in a new window.

A Story of Connecting and A Search for Answers….
Those least able to forget were the children — filmed here in their mid-20s to early 30s. Until making the group voyage, many of them also preferred to forget. In some cases, clues to their past were revealed only after years of speculation. Reunions and this trip to Vietnam, 25 years later, unlocked some of the mystery of their past. In a story about connecting, we follow six of them on that journey.

Precious Cargo was broadcast on PBS stations in November 2001 for National Adoption Awareness Month, and was broadcast in territories outside the United States by National Geographic Channels.

Production Credits
  • Janet Gardner — Director/Producer
  • Pham Quoc Thai — Producer
  • Len McClure — Director of Photography/Associate Producer
  • Kevin Cloutier — Additional Photography
  • Nicole Domenici — Editor
  • Sound Mix — David Browning
  • Sound Recordist — Tsang Tsui Shan


  • Dr. Coy F. Cross II, Historian, U.S. Air Force
  • Dr. John Gilmartin, Department of History, Ohio State University
  • Dr. Wayne Thompson, Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force
  • Dr. Edward Ziegler, Department of Psychology, Yale University
Precious Cargo was produced in association with the External Website Link Independent Television Service (ITVS) with major funding provided by the External Website Link Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Special thanks to The Fund for Investigative Journalism Inc., and Mr. John Hyde

Distributed by National Geographic International

Photo Gallery

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New York Times reviewer Julie Salamon described Precious Cargo as "a beautifully filmed and sensitively reported documentary. The producers, Pham Quoc Thai and Janet Gardner (who also directed), provide an exquisite window into the aftermath of war and what happens to children when the soldiers stop fighting."
The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a keeper,” and advised viewers, “Get out your handkerchiefs and warm up the VCR.”



  • Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion for National Television Feature Reporting, 2001
  • Deadline Club Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, 2001
  • Winner of The Chris Award, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, 2001


The Gardner Documentary Group
347 West 36th Street, Suite 1200
New York, NY 10018

Purchase and Streaming Options

For personal DVD purchase, please contact The Gardner Documentary Group. Schools, libraries, and institutions may order through External Website Link Alexander Street.