Back in November 2013 there was an article from Than Nien News on an interview with Dang Di Phan, the director of Bi, Don’t Be Afraid – an acclaimed Vietnamese art film. In the interview, he revealed some current challenges faced by the fledgling Vietnamese film industry. One of which is the lack of support for young film directors. Follow the link to read the full interview.
He said that most movie studios in Vietnam only invest in commercial films from established directors. He also suggested that the government is not supporting young directors since it’s only interested in war films. I think part of it is true. To play the devils' advocate, private studios do give young directors chances to make films as long as their scripts can sell, which means they have to be of comedy genre. They want high box office revenue. That’s understandable. The government, to some degree, also gives young directors opportunities. Lately, they put a lot of money in The Legend Maker which is a war film made by a very young director.
To add to Di's comment, I think that there is a lack of support for young film directors who make unconventional films. To be specific, the types of support that are lacking include financial backing, finding and keeping audience, resources such as equipments and facility, and screening venues. Basically, if you’re a new kid on the block who wants to create art films especially of a non narrative nature, then your chance of getting any help is from slim to none. I mean this is true anywhere in the world. However, I can understand how in Vietnam, the support for alternative cinema is far worst. Overall, even commercial films are failing to win audience over.
Regardless, I think it’s vital for the health of the Vietnamese film industry and to Vietnamese culture to establish a strong foundation in cinema. The key is in Avant Garde films. In Vietnam, the foundation of cinema is being built right now. As far as I know, there are three forces of influence forging the shape of cinema right now. All of them are practitioners of conventional narrative films. First, there are the overseas Vietnamese filmmakers who bring to the table their western influenced storytelling skills and polished Hollywood production value. Second is the government, who is mostly interested in propaganda oriented war films. Third are the indie filmmakers like Dang Di Phan, whose narrative flicks are very artsy and pretty much tailored to the international festival circuit and rely mostly on international funding. And in my humble opinion, I would rather watch 20 Dang Di Phan’s films than seeing another government backed film.
There should be a fourth and the most important one. That is Avant Garde films. I’m talking about pure experimental films such as those like in America and the early days of the Soviets. For example in the US, there is a long list of films in this nature, from Deren, Brakhage, Anger, to those of the Structuralists in the 70s, to the more technical experimenters like Tim Macmillan and Scott Barlette. The benefit of these experimentation might not be immediate but in the long run, they are crucial in establishing the inspiration for mainstream media. For example, MacMillan is the main influence on The Matrix’s revolutionary special effects. Anger has in some way inspired the MTV generation. Stan Brakhage was a professor who taught many Hollywood filmmakers. Successful mainstream filmmakers in the West frequently get inspirations from Avant garde filmmakers. Sam Mendes got inspiration from Dorsky. The opening sequence of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life has a couple shots of an experimental film from NYC. The point is that behind many development of the muscles of mainstream cinema there should be an experimental backbone.
I just think it would be nice to say these things about Vietnamese cinema 30 years from now. So I think it’s crucial to build a solid experimental film history not just for the sake of art but also serve as a source of inspiration for mainstream Vietnamese films in the future. It has be done now at this moment since Vietnamese cinema history is in the making. Without it, it would be like a tree growing tall on its weak roots. It could easily fall.
I think the answer is education. Especially with young directors, who are full of fervor to learn, it is vital for the growth of Vietnamese cinema to make sure these young artists have the support and are aware of alternative ways of filmmaking.
Empower them by informing them of the possibility of different filmmaking techniques. There are more than one ways of filmmaking out there and there are all kinds of cheap technologies that exist to make it possible. Good examples are films from Dogma95 and Mumblecore. Equally important is to make sure they recognize the limitations of the resource they have access to. That way, they can use their imagination to come up with ideas for their films that are suitable to the resource they have.
Another way is to educate the audience. I’m not talking about mass audience. Sometimes you can’t take a date to see a transgressive experimental film. I’m talking about slowly creating a niche. There has to be a niche—a small group of audience for these special films and making sure they are aware that these films need their support. Many people watch the films but don't know how to support them because the filmmakers failed to express their needs to be supported.
It’s also important to inform private studios with the understanding of their nature of commerce. Remind them that taking more chances with young filmmakers who want to try out different things now will reap them profits in the future. There might be no immediate benefits but there are plenty of bigger advantages in the long term. First, the more young people making innovative films, the more chance that one of those films will be a breakthrough and influence countless other ones. Second, trying out different ways of making films will help you discover which method work and don’t work. It’s like research and development. This makes sense at a business angle.
There are some trying efforts right now in Vietnam that aim to foster support for young filmmakers. The 48 Hour film project has shown some interesting filmmaking abilities from young people as well as helping them to get attention. Hanoi’s Doclab regularly screens films and holds workshops to educate young people about the Avant Garde. The Sci-Fi Project also allows young directors to carry out their wildest imagination using limited technologies. The Xine Film Festival is very friendly to innovative films from young directors. However, these organizations are all “mainly” being financed by international sponsors. Right now the supports from major players at home such as the Vietnamese audience, the government, and private studios are virtually none. How can our art grow if we don’t believe in it?
The Small Sleep by WESLEY TRUNG NGUYỄN, an Avant Garde film.
Project Sci-Fi in Vietnam
Project Sci-Fi Youtube Channel
The 48 Hour Film Project in HO CHI MINH CITY
See more films from DocLab
Watch videos from the Yxine Film Festival.