|Fishing tale: Andre Menras (right) talks with a local family in Ly Son island, whose ship was seized by China while fishing in Vietnamese waters in 2011. — Photo http://xuandienhannom.blogspot.com
Andre Menras could not have asked for more than the backhanded compliment he received after his documentary, Hoang Sa- Viet Nam: A Painful Loss, was screened in Ha Noi recently.
Noted director Tran Van Thuy commented: "As a professional Vietnamese filmmaker, I feel ashamed that I have not been able to make such a beautiful documentary."
The film deals with the fate of people with a direct, simple approach that is moving, he said.
The 60-minute documentary deals with the hardships faced by fishermen in central province of Quang Ngai, especially since China began escalating its intrusion into the East Sea.
It focuses in particular on the grief of women whose husbands and children went fishing off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, never returned home. Most of them were attacked by Chinese ships.
The documentary was shot in three weeks in 2006, with support from the then President Nguyen Minh Triet and a film-making crew from HCM City Television.
But before the shooting began, Andre Menras spent three months with local fishermen to "really understand" their day to day experiences.
"Through real details of locals' routines and interviews with the people who are suffering, I want to send a message to international community that in a remote sea area in Southeast Asia there are hard-working people daring to fish offshore despite fierce storms and threats from Chinese ships," he told Viet Nam News.
"Chinese ships may lay siege, attack them violently, imprison them and confiscate their engines, but they never give up earning their living from the sea. They are really heroes and deserved to be called ‘Viet Nam's Peace Soldiers'".
The documentary spends a long time on the "mo gio", tombs without corpses that are dedicated to those who never returned from the sea. It shows a ceremony in which a shaman makes a figure of clay with bamboo bones, paper intestines, and strings for veins. The figure is buried in the tomb instead of the missing corpse.
"When locals see the ceremony on the screen, they cannot hold back their tears," Menras said, adding, "Me too. That's one of the most touching moments in my life."
The poignant scenes have moved Vietnamese hearts in many European countries where the documentary has been screened, helping raise funds to enable the fishermen sustain their livelihood.
Menras has gathered from the locals that since 2002, at least 30 Vietnamese fishermen have died, 500 others have been imprisoned by China and 120 Vietnamese ships sunk by Chinese attacks in Vietnamese waters off the Hoang Sa Archipelago.
Most of the imprisoned fishermen were not properly fed and many have had to suffer malaria without medicines, he said.
Menras said that he hopes his documentary will show the whole world that China has not only broken international law in relation to the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, but also committed human rights violations.
"China's actions in the archipelagoes against Vietnamese fishermen should be regarded as human terrorism," he said. "I think Viet Nam should compile dossiers on the local fishermen terrorised and sue China in the International Court."
The Frenchman is already a household name in Viet Nam and among the Vietnamese diaspora for his heroic deeds during the American War.
On June 25, 1970, he and his friend, Jean Pierre Debriswent, climbed the statue of a US marine in Sai Gon in front of the Lower House of the Saigon government and planted the flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF). They also distributed 6000 leaflets against the American War and were sent to prison for this act.
Later, this act of bravery and constant support for the country won him an honorary Vietnamese citizenship.
Menras said he is working on another documentary, yet again on the brave fishermen who make their living in the waters off the Hoang Sa – Truong Sa archipelagoes.
He said this documentary will start with the illegal presence of China's oil rig in Vietnamese waters.
He said his documentaries come out of the love for Viet Nam in his heart.
"When I first came to Viet Nam, I was an innocent boy, neglecting politics," he said.
"Then the country taught me to become a real human being with strong determination. I have to thank Viet Nam for that. And that's the reason why I will fight for Viet Nam forever." — VNS