March, 09 2008 00:00:00

Patriarch entertains kids with mini movies

Patriarch entertains kids with mini movies

Front-row seats: Nguyen Van Long entertains children with his miniature cinema. VNS Photos Doan Tung

Everything but the kitchen sink: Long’s makeshift cinema opens children’s imaginations.


With a little tinkering, Hoang Phuong created a miniature cinema to give children shows of their own. Thu Van tries out his contraption.

Hoang Phuong jumped off his mother’s motorbike and eagerly ran through the Thu Le Zoological Garden gate to find his ‘old’ friend.

There sat an old man on a bench, a smile on his face warmly welcoming his small friend and loyal customer.

"Good afternoon. How are you today? Do you want another episode of ‘Wait and See’?" the old man asked.

"Yes, I do!" shouted Phuong.

The old man then passed the boy a small kind of ‘machine’ with a number of seemingly complicated pieces. But Phuong handled it familiarly, taking it and putting his right eye to a small hole, tying the band around his head and connecting a plastic cup/sound system to his ear.

Then the old man started his speech. No, wait, it must be a film script. The voice absorbed him and intoned, and at that point little Phuong didn’t care for anything else. He was lost in another world.

Reel life

Nguyen Van Long, 70 years old and a resident of Van Phuc Village in Ha Tay Province, has devoted his life to such work for the past 30 years.

"When I was small, I would look after my younger sister when my mother worked the fields. When she cried, I would hang a cloth and use my fingers to make animal shapes, imitating their voices to comfort her," said Long.

"Once, I happened to have a chance to watch a French film. They had a wooden box with six holes in it for six people to watch at the same time. The film was run by a battery pack. It was a very simple film, about a car crashing into a lamp post, but it stayed with me for such a long time."

Long revealed that the inspiration for films had been raised in him, and he would use oil lamps and draw on onion-skin papers to share with friends in the village.

Around 1975, as several old American and Russian things were being sold off, Long happened upon a handmade projector and an assortment of other parts and pieces from old children’s toys. Applying his skilful hand, he was able to invent a new yet strange ‘film projector’ of sorts, along with a number of films.

"With my animated films, the children can enjoy the moving images just as they would at home, on television. I use my hand to rotate the tape, which includes many separate images, making them run one by one through a small screen while the children watch the film through the other side. They also hear the voice-over through the plastic cup, connected by a copper wire linking another ‘cup’ which I speak through," said Long.

Some other children enjoy Long’s "interactive films", wherein they are able to become physically involved through a variety of hands-on objects.

"When the viewer comes to a forest scene, I hand them a branch of wood, telling them to feel the forest around them," said Long.

"In another scene, with storms upon the sea, I spray water on the screen to imitate real rain for the audience.

"I do these things to further involve the audience in the film, and to make them more interested."

Long’s little "cinema" also uses his hand-made drawings as material. With a few small books just big enough to see through the screen, he turns the pages one by one as he reads the voice-over, creating a continuous cartoon for the children.

Though a film may last only five minutes, Long must spend countless hours producing it. He is the writer, the reader and operator. He alone wields his magical movie machine.

"I just love his voice and the way he makes the scripts. Whenever I hear him saying ‘to...reeng...to...reeng’, indicating the end of the film, I get sad because I want to see more," said Phuong.

Alternative endings

Long has spent a lot of time around Ha Noi’s parks, and he now boasts some 250 films. He knows by heart every word and emotion of all his characters. And he always plays his films for free to those children who can’t afford to pay.

These days his regular customers can easily find him at Thu Le Zoological Garden, and each year he is invited by the Ethnology Museum for the Mid-Autumn Festival to come and show his films.

Long, however, feels sad because he has no one to pass his job along to. His daughter stays busy with her shop in Van Phuc Silk Village and his son is an officer in the army and is rarely able to come home.

The fact that when Long gets older he will not be able to come to the park anymore must upset many children. And children in the future may never have the chance to experience Long’s rich ‘cinema’.

But still, today, the children are sitting around him, their faces shining eagerly, waiting. They will never forget his voice, or his simple but beautiful films. They’ll always remember him, in a small corner of the park, and the time they spent together with their ‘old’ friend. — VNS

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