Young filmmakers put Vietnam on world map, but lack backing

By Long Nguyen   October 4, 2020 | 06:00 am PT
Several young Vietnamese filmmakers have earned international acclaim, but they’ve done so with sparse support and could do with more of it.

On October 2, "Rom", a movie by young director Tran Dung Thanh Huy, earned VND46.3 billion (over $2 million) domestically in its first two weeks. Prior to its Vietnam premiere, the film had graced the screen at several international film festivals.

It was honored with the New Flesh Best First Feature award at the 24th Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada last month. A year ago, it shared the New Currents prize at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

Huy is one of several Vietnamese filmmakers to have created high-quality productions and win global recognition in recent years.

Behind a scene of Rom. Photo courtesy of Rom.

A still from "Rom". Photo courtesy of "Rom".

Just this year, three Vietnamese movies: "Thien Duong Goi Ten" (A Trip To Heaven), "Giong Song Khong Nhin Thay" (The Unseen River), and "An Act of Affection" were featured in the "Pardi di Domani" category at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, a platform for new talents showing short and medium-length films from around the world.

"Thien Duong Goi Ten," directed by Duong Dieu Linh, was presented the Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Prize at the Swiss event. "Giong Song Khong Nhin Thay," directed by Pham Ngoc Lan, won the Asino d'Oro (Golden Donkey) award at Concorto Film Festival in Italy.

In September, "May Nhung Khong Mua" (Live in Cloud - Cuckoo Land) was nominated for the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film prize at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, the oldest such event in the world.

At Locarno in 2019, five Vietnamese movies received awards in the Open Door category that explores cinema across Southeast Asia and Mongolia.

"Some international friends joked Vietnam had grabbed all the festival prizes," said director Bui Thac Chuyen, whose project "Tro Tan Ruc Ro" (Glorious Fire) scooped the CNC award at the festival that year.

Where’s the money?

One of the greatest challenges faced by many young Vietnamese filmmakers is funding, or the lack of it.

Vietnamese representation remains inadequate around the world since independent filmmakers enjoy little opportunity at home. Most local producers focus on making commercially successful movies, instead of artistic productions that generate next to no income, Huy told local media.

Many indie filmmakers have turned to crowd funding to bring their ideas to life, like "578", directed by Luong Dinh Dung, and "Ban Cung Phong" (Roommates), directed by Nguyen Le Hoang Viet.

Others tap sources like the World Cinema Fund, Hubert Bals Fund and Doha Film Institute Grants, but "it is a difficult journey with a lot of requirements," said Raymond Phathanavirangoon, executive director of Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab (SEAFIC), a script lab for regional creatives.

Director Bui Thac Chuyen said another aspect of the problems faced by filmmakers in Vietnam is education, in terms of the official support it gets.

He noted that the Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents, founded in 2002, is yet to receive the support it deserves, even though several former students have gone on to achieve success.

A scene from Nguoi Vo Ba (The Third Wife), directed by Nguyen Phuong Anh, winning the Best Film award at the Kolkata International Film Festival in India and an award at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival in Canada in 2018. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Vo Ba.

A scene from "Nguoi Vo Ba" (The Third Wife), directed by Nguyen Phuong Anh, which won the Best Film award at the Kolkata International Film Festival in India and an award at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival in Canada in 2018. Photo courtesy of "Nguoi Vo Ba."

Bui Thac Chuyen, director of "Song Trong So Hai" (Living In Fear), who won the best new talent award at the 9th Shanghai International Film Festival in 2005, said Vietnamese cinema needs some fresh blood to boost its international prestige.

Cinema, like culture and art, should be considered as a field requiring support and development, he said.

The government has approved a long-term plan (with vision until 2030) to develop the cinema industry that would prioritize available assistance to film directors, producers, and scriptwriters who need local and international training.

But according to director Phan Dang Di, whose first movie "Bi, Dung So" (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid) won international acclaim, several indie filmmakers like him have yet to gain access to the government initiative.

After the success of "Rom," director Huy has plans for another movie, and he knows he will have to start from scratch.

"When I start a new project, I start from the ground. I first convince everyone the idea is good, then call for financial support."

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