HA NOI (VNS)— Dramatisations of historical times and figures need to be made very carefully by cultural creators, according to participants at a workshop about the boundaries between historical fact and fiction held over the weekend in the capital.
|Past master: A scene from the movie Khat Vong Thang Long (Thang Long Aspiration) by director Luu Trong Ninh, a successful production that covers a poignant moment in history. — VNS File Photo
The Historical Literature and Arts Creation workshop was attended by nearly 60 writers, playwrights, directors, painters and composers, the largest gathering of its kind in 20 years.
The workshop studied art that has been highly acclaimed alongside more controversial works. Speakers discussed ways in which both entertainment value and historical accuracy could be ensured.
"I think the answer lies within the message of the work. Does it teach us a lesson on humanity?" said writer Hoang Quoc Hai, who has written more than 6,000 pages on Viet Nam's Tran and Ly dynasties. "This can be distinguished very easily between really good works and creations that tell us nothing."
He also argued that historical novels must respect history and capture essence of the time. "The writer must be smart and fair when judging events and characters," he said.
Critic Nguyen Van Thanh cited two recent plays as pieces of art that are unsuccessful in recreating history satisfactorily.
He said that Ngan Nam Tinh Su (A Thousand-Year Love Story) by Nguyen Quang Lap, characterised national hero General Ly Thuong Kiet [1019-1105] as a person who lived only to love and did not focus on his heroic characteristics and historic victories, while Yeu La Thoat Toi (Love as an Escape) by Le Chi Trung portrayed the life of the mandarin Nguyen Trai [1380-1442] by focusing on his wife's love affair with his King and his subsequent execution, rather than his virtues and achievements.
Thanh said that instead of studying historic materials, the two playwrights used their imaginations to create details that never happened in the past.
Writer Nguyen Xuan Khanh, who has been acclaimed for his novel about the life of another famous mandarin and later King, Ho Quy Ly (1336-1407), told the workshop that creating a piece of fiction based on a real historical figure was extremely difficult because it required a deep understanding of history, extensive research and a good imagination to create a plot true to life.
He added that examples from the genre written before 1945 took a repetitive and simplistic approach of "we won, the enemy lost", and it was not until the 1980s that historical fiction began to develop towards a more creative angle that might depart a little from the truth, or at least add more layers to the story.
Painter Tran Khanh Chuong, chairman of Viet Nam Fine Arts Association, encouraged artists to continue tackling historical topics.
"Work looking at the past should give writers and artists the opportunity to comment on present day society," he said, adding that authorities should give artists more freedom.
Writer Hoang Minh Tuong agreed. "We should have the right and the freedom to invent, imagine and create details and characters to make the stories more interesting, without distorting history or developing the story in an illogical way."
Hoang Chuong claimed that each writer should self-censor first before submitting their work to colleagues and critics. However, he admitted that there is a fine line between good inventions and distortions of the truth.
Film director Dang Nhat Minh worried that Viet Nam would never be able to shoot critically successful historical films as no one was ready to take the time required for research and preparation.
According to playwright Nguyen Thi Hong Ngat, various factors were to blame for the lack of films on history, including small and restrictive budgets, insufficient locations and weak scripts.
"During the past 25 years, just a few writers have been interested in historical topics," said composer Do Hong Quan, chairman of the Viet Nam Composers Association.
"Today's composers choose more easy-going topics. Very few people want to focus on a more difficult and supposedly less interesting subject like history." — VNS