Filmmakers 'work in the field of culture but go against culture'

By Phan Hoang An Xuan   November 19, 2021 | 12:22 am PT
To suit their whims and fancies, several filmmakers have defaced cultural and historical monuments, leaving many citizens outraged and frustrated.

A film crew making 'Chuyen Lang Bom' (Bom Village’s Story) recently painted white an ancient well in Hanoi’s Mong Phu Village. Earlier, those making 'Thai Su Tran Thu Tho' (Great Tutor Tran Thu Do) shocked many by moving the altar of Emperor Minh Mang while filming. Painter Truong Duc Thang, a member of the "Chuyen Lang Bom" crew, was fined VND2 million ($88.39) on Nov. 10 for writing, drawing and desecrating a historical-cultural monument.

Nguyen Van Huy, former director of the Hanoi-based Museum of Ethnology, said that such actions were an infringement on historical relics and monuments.

"They work in the field of culture but go against culture. The act of renewing the ancient relic, making it mossy to film a movie is ridiculous."

"The Duong Lam ancient village has been ranked a national historical monument for a long time. It is unacceptable to film there without respecting it. Those making art but have no understanding of it should be severely punished," a VnExpress reader commented.

The ancient well in Mong Phu Village is painted and decorated by the crew of Chuyen Lang Bom. Photo by Do Doan Hoang

The ancient well in Mong Phu Village is painted and decorated by the crew of 'Chuyen Lang Bom.' Photo by Do Doan Hoang

In 2010, when filming 'Thai Su Tran Thu Do' at Emperor Minh Mang’s Tomb located in the complex of Hue monuments, the film crew moved all the altars of the king and his family to the corner of the hall, making room for the king and queen's bedroom in a movie scene. The main hall was also full of electric wires, lamp posts, tables and chairs, clothes, personal belongings... of the film crew. The team had to clean up and rearrange the main hall to its original state later. The Co Loa Citadel in Hanoi was also painted by a film crew.

Such actions by crews looking to create film sets to match their stories have angered many.

Tran Dinh Thanh, Deputy Director of the Cultural Heritage Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said while such actions were rare, recent incidents were a reminder for filmmakers to be more careful.

Putting a positive spin on it, he said the public concern shows that awareness of cultural heritage protection has significantly improved.

Thanh said movies and TV shows set in historical sites help promote their cultural values to the public. Therefore, authorities need to encourage and facilitate this. But in order to limit mistakes, film crews must contact the management board and local authorities to ask for permission and present the content of the works before they do it. They must also comply with the regulations, carefully study the monuments to know the do's and don'ts and comply accordingly.

Management boards must also guide and supervise the crew throughout the filmmaking process, he added.

"The two sides must coordinate to minimize unnecessary incidents, anticipate negative impacts on our heritage, and take measures to prevent and adjust films’ content based on the principles of heritage preservation."

Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5 is filmed in An Dinh Palace in the ancient capital of Hue. Photo courtesy of Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5

'Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5' is filmed in An Dinh Palace in the ancient capital of Hue. Photo courtesy of 'Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5'

Lost in a flash

Many film crews have said that they were careful when filming amidst cultural and historical monuments.

The movie 'Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5' (Camellia Sisters) is set in the ancient capital of Hue. Director Namcito proposed using the An Dinh Palace as the main set for the film to the People's Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province and other concerned departments a year before shooting.

The team had to present plans to maintain the palace’s status quo. After obtaining approval, they had to sign a commitment not to touch the wall, scratch the floor, damage the glass door and so on.

Namcito said: "Besides upholstering the edges of chairs and tables, hanging pictures without sticking them to the wall, hanging curtains without nails, we made warning signs and instructed staff to avoid contact with antiques."

In order to move the artifacts or change any detail, they had to make a written request to the management board. Scenes were filmed during the hot summer season in Hue and the crew had to install air conditioners that did not touch the palace’s walls.

Actor Vuong Rau said that because he regularly performs comedy shows in ancient villages and historical sites, he had to ask for permission from the authorities first.

During the filming process, he and his crew were careful not to change anything from the original. They also reminded each other to be careful with words and actions. "Creating good or bad artworks is another story, but destroying heritage is terrible," he said.

Many countries have enacted regulations to ensure that filming does not affect historical sites.

According to Chinese news site Sina, some localities in China have had their relics and antiques damaged during filming. Therefore, since 2000, many have issued their own regulations to protect their heritage.

For scenes that are shot for films such as the Forbidden City, companies in China build monumental film sets, recreating palaces and other structures to serve filmmakers and tourists.

The Heng Dian World Studio in Zhejiang Province - a complex that serves many functions including filming, tourism, and relaxation, is one such film set. From 1996 until now, the Heng Dian Group has invested more than $425 million to build Hong Kong Street, palaces of the Qing and Ming Dynasties, Palaces of Qin Dynasty, etc. for filming and tourism. Thousands of movies and TV series have been filmed here, including many famous works.

In Beijing, an $850 million studio in Huairou has similarly attracted many filmmakers.

In the U.K., filmmakers hire supervisors to advise and monitor filming activities to avoid damaging any historical or cultural vestige. According to the British Institute of Conservation, all concerned parties need to sign a contract and discuss the footage thoroughly. The person in charge of the scene has to submit a proposal that includes the aims of the crew, risk assessments and safe filming methods.

The conservation unit needs to know if the recording content is suitable for the relic site or not, to avoid filming "hot" and violent scenes in inappropriate places. The contract must be agreed and signed by both parties before shooting.

The James Bond film crew is famous for choosing historical settings for filming without causing damage to buildings and monuments. In "No Time To Die", the team went to the ancient city of Matera in Italy to shoot many action scenes. Chris Corbould - responsible for the technical effects of the project - said the team organized 14 trips before the place was chosen. To protect the ancient structures of the city, they wrapped buildings with special materials and decorated them like real walls. The film crew then freely shot the action scenes without fear of damaging the old structures.

Huy, former director of the ethnology museum in Hanoi, said that if and when a mistake happens when shooting, the film crew should ask experts to study and fix it instead of doing it on their own.

"It is necessary to raise awareness and cultural behavior towards monuments and tourism spots. It takes us hundreds of years to build and preserve ancient relics, but they can be easily demolished in a moment."

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