Nguyen Hoang Diep stands out among Viet Nam's young directors. She was one of the producers of Bi, Don't be Afraid, and is the writer and director of Swinging in the Air, a film that, despite only being in pre-production, is already attracting a lot of buzz. The screenplay overcame 95 others from around the world to win US$500,000 of grant money from the World Cinema Fund.
Diep's friends often say that she ended up working in the world of cinema by chance. Others say it was meant to be. Without her knowledge, a friend applied for her to join the Ha Noi Academy of Theatre and Cinema, and she passed the entrance exam with ease. Her natural talent was quickly recognised, and she has since made several films, all of which have been acclaimed by audiences. She talks with Viet Van.
Inner Sanctum: How did you feel when you received the news that your film project has been selected as the winner of the World Cinema Fund grant?
I am very happy, because I have always been unlucky with money! I have never won competitions or the lottery. The film project first came into my head in 2008, and it has evolved and changed over the years. In 2010, I presented my script and ideas in Pusan, South Korea. In 2011, I took it to Italy, and in 2012 to France. I set my sights on Cannes, as there is a world of opportunity there, and now the news from the World Cinema Fund comes as a welcome and surprising gift.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, why did they choose your project? Is it because the subject is fresh, or another reason?
I think it is the plot and the deeper message. The film tells the story of a pregnant 17-year-old girl whose boyfriend doesn't want to keep their baby. They both agree that she should get an abortion, which requires money they don't have. However, when they save nearly enough, the boyfriend loses it all gambling, and disappears. Later, the girl meets another middle-aged man, who gives her a lot of money, and she is faced with the dilemma of whether to go through with the abortion. However, once again, the man in her life leaves her suddenly. Finally, in her moment of despair, her boyfriend returns to her. In my opinion, it is the destiny of women to be lonely. The plot revolves around a triangle of love, sex and loneliness.
Inner Sanctum: Why do you think women are lonely, and in what way?
It is from my own experience. A woman's loneliness is sometimes deep and sometimes superficial. They can chat with a crowd of friends, but when they are sad they get out their phone, but don't know who to call. What's interesting about women is that their lives revolve around men - their husbands, their boyfriends, their sons - and rarely around sex.
Inner Sanctum: How much financial backing does your project need, and what are the challenges?
It will cost over $500,000. The script is complicated. Half of it is filmed high above ground as this is where one of the main characters works. Casting the right actors to fill the roles is also a challenge. The 40-year-old man, Hoang, must be like a figure from a dream, while Tung, the 17 year old man is childish but severe.
Inner Sanctum: Do you think films should reflect national identity?
I like to make films which are imbued with national identity. Watching them you could almost smell the land, the air, the vegetation.
Inner Sanctum: You were a producer on Bi, Don't Be Afraid, before moving to the director's chair for Swinging in the Air. How do you like best to work on a project?
Our filmmaking group is made up of three people: Diep, Di and Minh (the cameraman). If any individual has their own project, we work on it together as a group. For example, when Di made Bi, Don't Be Afraid, he was the director and producer, and I joined in the project later as another producer. It is the same with Minh. For Swinging in the Air, I will work as the director and Di will produce alongside actress Do Thi Hai Yen. For this project, I expect this will be my only role.
Inner Sanctum: Have you ever thought about making a series of films around the same themes?
Yes. I would like to make films that are linked in their exploration of women and youth, because they are issues close to my life.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the use of violence and sex in films?
My films do not contain violence, but there is sex. While it is not at the root of everything, we can not separate ourselves and our actions from sex. Women create the idea of sex, although they are not always the ones who benefit from it.
Inner Sanctum: In your films, the central female characters are often complicated and rebellious. Often they don't know what they want, and they are naive enough to be treated like accessories of the modern society. And they often have a sad ending!
I am often helpless in creating male characters. Maybe I am not good in imagining men. I do not understand them. They are often off-screen, or appear as a blurred shadow. Only in Swinging in the Air does the script describes the men more clearly, but we will see how they come across in the film!
Inner Sanctum: In creative work, ideas are everything. How do you keep yours fresh?
When I have a very interesting story to tell in a film, people can often realise elements of my own story in it. I draw a lot from real life, but if I rely too heavily on my imagination and experience then the story can sometimes become too banal on paper.
So when I feel helpless, I often call my friends, in particular those who lead complicated or mysterious lives, and I ask them if the story was happening to them what would come next? What would the man in the story do? What would this character say? Of course, this does not mean that everything in my films are come straight from reality. The audience should have a keen nose to scent the deceitful details in the story!
Inner Sanctum: Looking at yourself in the mirror, do you think you are interesting?
Yes, I am. But my life is not interesting. I have a husband and two babies. I work for the government to earn my living. I have never started a business. I have never visited Africa. I like to make myself look beautiful. I love to tell lies every now and then. There is nothing special about my life, but I think what is interesting about me is that I have a good imagination.
Inner Sanctum: Why do you choose to make films?
Because I cannot do anything else better. I want be good in my field. I love to act, but I am afraid of showing my nature in front of the camera. So I am more suitable for the role of a story teller working behind the lens.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, does a film need to be philosophical?
A script always requires some literary quality. A film can be light and clear, but it should hide some things from view. It requires some meaning deep down inside.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about films made by young Vietnamese people today? For example, the entries to some short film competitions like Yxine and We Are Making Films?
They make many interesting films - interesting because they avoid forcedness. Acting in these films is not overly theatrical like it was in my generation. In the old days, to make film you needed a big plot. Today, young people makes films simply to introduce their concepts or their styles.
Inner Sanctum: You have been selected to join the Ha Noi International Film Festival 2012. What do you expect from the event?
I make films about young Vietnamese people and produce them in Viet Nam, so I need support from these people. The event is a good opportunity for me to represent my project and I hope to get support so I can make the film in my own style, with no problems and with full control. I want to decide the running time and the scenes that are included so that I can fully express what I want to say.
Inner Sanctum: What is the most important thing to you in your life?
It's difficult to know. There are so many things to consider. It was easier to talk about everything before I got married. Now, it is difficult. — VNS