Operation Popcorn

UPDATE: OPERATION POPCORN is now streaming on PBS until May 31, 2016.

OPERATION POPCORN premieres May 17, 2016 on World Channel as part of the Emmy-nominated series America ReFramed.


Houston Asian American Pacific Islander Film Festival, June 11, 2016 

Kansas City FilmFest, April 17, 2016

Chicago Asian American Showcase, April 7, 2016

CAAMFest 2016, March 13, 2016

Hawaii International Film Festival, November 17 and 21, 2015

San Diego Asian Film Festival, November 7, 2015

University of Wisconsin – Premiere Showcase, October 10, 2015

Fresno Water Festival, June 13, 2015

HAAPIFest 2016, June 11, 2015

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, February 24 and 26, 2015

Minneapolis International Film Festival, April 16, 2015


The Hmong people of Laos were our allies in the Vietnam War; with hundreds of thousands forced to flee and settle in the U.S. as refugees. Nearly 40 years later, 10 of their elders were arrested by the FBI, accused of trying to buy arms so they could return to their homeland and overthrow the Lao government. OPERATION POPCORN tells their epic story from the perspective of Locha Thao, the alleged ringleader.

When a video is smuggled out of Laos showing that the present-day Communist government continues to persecute the Hmong still living there, Locha lobbies the UN for aid, and discovers that few US politicians care about stragglers from a decades-old conflict. But then a shady arms dealer contacts Locha, offering a way for the Hmong left behind in Laos to defend themselves. Locha believes that the dealer has been sent by the CIA, and falls into a web of deceit and intrigue.

Showing how the aftershocks of war reverberate across continents and generations, OPERATION POPCORN is a true-crime tale of how an opportunistic community activist is transformed into an international terrorist.



Director/Producer/Writer: David Grabias is an Award-winning non-fiction filmmaker who has directed numerous documentaries that have screened at film festivals around the world and aired internationally on PBS, HBO, A&E, Discovery, and National Geographic.

Previously, David produced KORAN BY HEART for HBO, which profiles devout Muslim kids at the world’s oldest Koran reciting contest. David’s last documentary for PBS, SENTENCED HOME, was nominated for an Emmy. The film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and has won awards at film festivals worldwide. Funded in part by the Center for Asian American Media and the Sundance Institute, SENTENCED HOME tracks three Cambodian Americans through the deportation process.  For PBS, David also co-produced and directed UNCOVERED, which puts an intimate human face on America’s growing health care crisis by chronicling the struggles of a diverse group of uninsured Americans.

David was also nominated for an Emmy for producing the Discovery Channel two-hour special WHY DOGS SMILE AND CHIMPANZEES CRY, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. For PBS, David also directed the documentary CENTRALIA, a revealing portrait of an out-of-control mine fire that threatens to destroy a small Pennsylvania town. His film GAY BASHING follows the exploits of a gay demolition derby driver. And David lived in Turkey for two years to complete THOSE WHO ARE IN LOVE, which celebrates that country’s vanishing folk minstrel tradition. For National Geographic, he produced and directed the weekly science series THE HUMAN EDGE, and the documentary LOCKDOWN, about a prison in Iowa that specializes in youthful offenders.

Through his company Artifact Studios, David directs a wide variety of commercial work. David lives in Los Angeles.


Hmong American women at General Vang Pao’s funeral.
Locha Thao
Hmong veterans
Operation Popcorn poster
Locha Thao.
Locha Thao

Additional photos available upon request.


OPERATION POPCORN to premiere on PBS’ AMERICA REFRAMED series (May 4, 2016)


War Wounds Resurfaced in ‘Operation Popcorn,” Documentary on Hmong Arrests” (NBC News, May 17, 2016)

Director David Grabias Chat About His Documentary Operation P.O.P.C.O.R.N. (Valley Public Radio, May 17, 2016)

Asian American Documentaries Premiere on PBS May 2016” (CAAMedia.org, May 4, 2016)

MovieFiend review” (MovieFiend, March 11, 2016)

Hmong Documentary to screen at Tower Theatre” (Fresno Bee, June 10, 2015)


This program is supported through CAAM’s Media Fund Department with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Follow Operation Popcorn on Facebook.