Culture Vulture (June, 13 2012)
Belgian film director Thierry Michel has returned to Ha Noi for the fourth time to teach Vietnamese directors and cinematography students how to make documentary films.
He held a five-day training course from June 4, jointly sponsored by the Wallonie-Bruxelles delegation to Viet Nam and Viet Nam's National Documentary and Scientific Film Studio.
Michel is also a journalist and a lecturer at the Institute des Arts de Diffusion in Belgium. He talks about the training course and also about his passion for the job.
How do you work with your students during the training course?
I help trainees analyse Vietnamese and foreign documentary films. We work on diverse themes of famous documentary films by directors all over the world.
We discuss trends and the renewal of documentary filmmaking in Asia and other parts of the world as well as techniques required by Asian and global TV channels. We analyse the weak and strong points of Vietnamese documentaries.
It's the fourth training course. How does your class compare with previous years?
I am impressed to see more and more young people join the class, mostly women. I see they are very confident when they talk about their film projects. It is very interesting because the filmmaking environment is quite hard on women. Many of them have to spend time looking after their children and family and don't find enough time to stay with the job.
Viet Nam's documentary films are becoming more and more diverse. There are three main kinds of documentary films in Viet Nam. The first is the traditional documentary which is faithful to the theme, aiming to preserve national identity.
The second is experimental documentary, called "cinema direct" (films made without comment), following training courses of Atelier Varan (France) in Viet Nam.
The third is experimental documentary, made by young and amateur filmmakers who learned to make film in Doclab (documentary filmmaking and video art centre) of Goethe Institute.
I am glad to see them begin to work on diverse subjects and more and more on contemporary subjects.
And what about the quality of their films? Which skills should they improve?
Viet Nam has had several interesting documentary films. I find them very good technically. But sometimes they have too many comments. And it is a pity that too many have comments written before filming instead of letting the situations do the talking.
An important principle when making a documentary film is to record the actions of the characters and not to follow a scenario written beforehand.
Moreover, Vietnamese filmmakers don't create a climax. Take as an example, the film The Sky and the Gulf directed by Bui Phuong Thao. The audience expects they will see a meeting between brutal Phu Quoc prison guard Bay Nhu and former prisoner Vu Minh Tang who was tortured by Nhu. But the meeting doesn't happen. Audiences lose emotions when things they expect to happen don't.
I felt very deceived, and when Nhu didn't show any remorse, even though the filmmakers showed some beautiful images and were well-prepared when they made the film.
I also see that many talented filmmakers in Viet Nam, like Tran Phuong Thao and Nguyen Kim Hai, but they lack their own style.
It's difficult for audiences at a Vietnamese film to know who made a film.
What do you expect from Vietnamese filmmakers?
I tell my students to use documentary film to discover every aspect of a society or subject, with love and criticism. We should point out all the problems to discover the culture and identity. It's important, particularly when the film is shown abroad. — VNS