A 23-minute documentary Danh Tang Ong Dieu (Dedicated to Grandpa Dieu) by Nguyen Hien Anh, a third-year student from Ha Noi University of Law, has just won two awards at the recent Bup Sen Vang (Golden Lotus) Short Film Festival. It won awards for the Best Documentary Audience Choice and the Best First-Hand Documentary by the jury.
The festival is held annually by the Ha Noi-based Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie of the Viet Nam Cinema Association. The festival, together with film making courses organised by the TPD, aims at developing Viet Nam's young cinema talent.
Culture Vulture chats with Hien Anh about her brainchild and her passion.
Could you tell me about your documentary? Why do you choose to feature such an elderly man?
My work describes the everyday life of a quiet aged person in a busy city (HCM City). He leads a simple life in a modest house with a blue wooden door around a small corner of a busy street. The elderly man, who used to work as a freelance interpreter at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in mid 1960s, has a strong ambition. He works very hard, translating books he likes, but he has never tried to publish any of them. One of the books he is working on is Kissinger's Memoirs.
He has something special from the first sight. But what prompted me to feature him in my first documentary was not his strange appearance but the fact that he seemed to be even more interesting when one begins to understand more about him.
At the first glance, passers-by may find him a "crazy" man sporting the same clothes everyday, one who never steps out from his home. Neighbours may see him teaching French to people or teaching Vietnamese to foreign adults. He may be caught writing something in his balcony at mid night. People will never know what he writes at that time.
I used to pass by his house every day and once, my curiosity urged me to knock on the door. That is when I found out his secret: he was a diligent, ambitious, enthusiastic person on the inside, though he kept up an appearance of a slow man in worn-out clothes.
How did you make the documentary?
I started the work in September last year, when I joined half of the10-lesson course at the TPD, teaching students how to make a documentary. I completed the documentary by the time the course was over. My film was shot at his home only.
I borrowed a Canon 500D camera from a friend. The first scene I recorded was extremely blurred. Then when I first started matching the scenes, I did not know how to use the special software for that task. I also had to know how to ignore the curious eyes of my neighbours and smiled at their questions: "Why are you filming him? What for? Why do you film him every day for so long?" And I also had to be patient to wait for every stage to complete in order to have a proper final product. Whenever I found myself bogged down due to some reason, the TPD staff and my friends helped me enthusiastically. Without their help, I could not have been able to complete it.
For me, making a documentary was an interesting experience. Documentary makes it difficult for both director and audience to guess what will happen in the work.
What difficulties do the young independent film makers in Viet Nam face?
I think independent film making is a long and difficult process. The producers have to take care at all stages of the work.
I know many young people spent a lot of time travelling to remote mountainous villages to record the most realistic scenes. Some students, who are not yet 20, are brave enough to try domestic violence as a topic. For a starter like me, everything is more challenging. For example, borrowing a camera for some weeks was not easy at all.
I think young film makers worry over finance and human resources is not as serious as audience's ignorance about their products. So the best thing to do is that the young directors should come up with persuasive products. Don't let the audience step out of the cinema with a sense of disappointment. They [young directors] will soon gain more than they expect. — VNS