Viet Nam News
The State-owned Việt Nam Feature Film Studio (VFS), founded in 1953, became one of the biggest film producers in the north of Việt Nam. The studio produced its first motion picture Chung Một Dòng Sông (Together on the Same River) in 1959, kick starting the glorious revolutionary cinema industry.
Many movies produced by the VFS won international awards, such as documentary Nước Về Bắc Hưng Hải (Water Returns to Bắc Hưng Hải), which won the Golden Award at the 1959 Moscow Film Festival; Chị Tư Hậu (Sister Tư Hậu), which won a Silver Award in 1963 — and Cánh Đồng Hoang (The Wild Field), which won the Silver Award in 1981.
The studio gained successes with its international award-winning movies until early in 2000. The movies included Bao Giờ Cho Đến Tháng Mười (When the Tenth Month Comes) in 1984 and Mùa Ổi (Season of Guava) in 2000 by Đặng Nhật Minh; Đời Cát (Sand Life) in 1999 by Nguyễn Thanh Vân, and Tâm Hồn Mẹ (Mother’s Soul) in 2011 by Nhuệ Giang.
But the VFS no longer exists because of equitisation, which has been carried out since 2006.
Famed film director Đặng Nhật Minh spoke about film making in the state-subsidised economy.
You became film director accidentally, and your films have been globally recognised, such as Bao giờ cho đến tháng 10 (When the Tenth Month Comes), one of CNN’s 18 all-time best Asian films, and Đừng Đốt (Don’t Burn), which was nominated for an Academy Award. Could you tell us about making films in the state-subsidised economy?
I engaged in filmmaking when I was about 30. It was late. I have since made more than 10 feature films and several documentaries, not many considering I have been making films for 50 years. In other countries, a film director like me can make 30 to 40 films and even more.
I made all my films with the government’s financial backing. I remember that film directors at the VFS have to queue up from three to five years to make a film. The State could not pour money to just one director. Despite making a good film, directors had to wait long time to make another. The state-subsidised economy had an advantage that it created equality. Making films needed to be shared among directors.
All directors who were regular members of the VFS were able to increase their salaries every three years. There were no classifications among making good or bad films.
But how were directors encouraged to make good films?
Egalitarianism is a character of the state-subsidised economy. Young and veteran directors got the same royalty, which was regulated by the State. It was very fair.
You made documentaries first and then you changed to feature movies. Why?
I liked to become a documentary director because of my love for them.When I went to the National Documentary and Scientific Film Studio, I was refused because I did not graduate as a film director and I was not a Party member.
Since then, I know that documentaries are more important than features. And I asked for a film director assistant.
What is your overview of Vietnamese cinema?
I think it can be divided into three periods. The first was the establishment of the revolutionary cinema in 1953 before the national reunification day in 1975. The second was after 1975 to the renewal process starting in 1986; and the third has been the market economy.
The cinema industry before and after 1975 was basically not different. The State invested money to make movies for political purposes. After the renewal, there were some movies about social issues, thanks to the Government’s renewal cultural policy.
The cinema industry developed rapidly to meet the demand of the market economy. Many blockbusters have been produced, but few art-house movies. It is natural, but I feel lost because our cinema used to be loved and highly appreciated by audiences in many countries throughout the world.
Did you make your best movies in the early days of the renewal process?
I wrote scripts and made movies Thị Xã Trong Tầm Tay (Town within Reach) and Bao giờ cho đến tháng 10 ( When the Tenth Month Comes) before the renewal process. I made movie Cô Gái Trên Sông (The Girl on the River) during the renewal process, so the cultural authority approved it quickly. But it was criticised later, ending the short renewal process in cinema and in art in general.
What is your forecast for the Vietnamese cinema industry ?
Vietnamese society is now one of the market economies. The industry will develop like other cinemas in Southeast Asian countries. Recently Vietnamese movie Đảo Của Dân Ngụ Cư (The Way Station) won best film at the ASEAN International Films Festival in Malaysia. — VNS