Established poet Hoang Nhuan Cam received the State Award for Literature and Arts in 2012. He also won the first prize in a poetry contest launched by Van Nghe (Literature and Arts) newspaper and the Viet Nam Writers Association Award. Cam is also known as a veteran playwright, with historical films like Dem Hoi Long Tri, Ha Noi - Winter 1946 and The Scent of Burnt Grass under his belt. His latest movie, Nha Tien Tri (The Prophet), is no exception, as it is about late President Ho Chi Minh. His film, along with 19 others, is up for the Golden Lotus Award at the 19th National Film Festival being held in HCM City from December 1 to 5. Nguyen Thuy Binh speaks to Cam about the new movie and his interest in historical fiction.
Inner Sanctum: Mui Co Chay (The Scent of Burnt Grass) earned you the Best Script Award at the 17th National Film Festival in 2011, and four other important awards such as the Best Script at the Golden Kite by the Cinema Association in 2012. What do you expect to win at the 19th National Film Festival?
First of all, I'm glad to take part in the 19th National Film Festival, which will have a large number of movies from state-own and private studios.
I am working with Viet Nam Feature Film Studio I. I am working as the playwright in The Prophet and as the editor in two other films which are also competing at the festival.
Honestly, I hope The Prophet will be awarded at the festival. This year many good films are competing for the awards. This excites me because the fiercer the competition, the more valuable the award.
Hope belongs to everyone. Many artists say they don't hope about awards. I think that is not honest. When artists attend the film festival, they will have not just joy, but also hope.
Personally, it's great for anyone whose films win an award at the festival.
Some young artists say their creativity is not for winning awards. I think it is not really true because while awards are not the most important thing, they can be an encouragement for artists. Awards help them to be recognised by their colleagues.
I think a national award will also help the artist in being confident of developing his career in his own way.
Inner Sanctum: You spent nearly 10 years in completing The Prophet's script. Why did it take such a long time?
Many Vietnamese filmmakers have made movies about late President Ho Chi Minh to highlight his noble character. However, they never mentioned his prophecy about the revolution in Viet Nam and the world.
I wanted to focus on his prophecy in The Prophet. I nurtured the idea of writing the script very long ago, probably when President Ho passed away in 1969. At that time I wrote a poem entitled Mua Thu Toi Yeu (Autumn I Love), expressing my deep-felt sentiments for him.
I don't know when his image and the image of the revolution in autumn became embedded in my mind.
Writing about President Ho Chi Minh is a challenge for any artist. But it is also an honour.
I have collected about 1,000 stamps of Ho Chi Minh and thousands of his pictures.
Writing about Ho is not an easy task because there are too many historic events to cover.
I had to go on field trips to historic places where Ho Chi Minh lived. It was very moving to touch his belongings or stay in his stilt house. It inspired me a lot and I wrote quickly.
This proves that artists need to go on field trips before they create something. Reality is attractive and inspires artists a lot, especially filmmakers.
It is necessary to love characters to write a script truthfully and successfully.
Inner Sanctum: The Prophet has been directed by veteran Vuong Duc. Does the movie satisfy you?
In The Prophet, there is a moving scene. A soldier picks up a map that has a draft plan to attack Viet Bac (northern mountainous Viet Nam) and the French determination to take Ho Chi Minh alive.
The soldier runs through the forest, battling with the French vehicles. Finally, he gives the map to the Vietnamese military headquarters and breathes his last.
In another scene, Ho Chi Minh comes to a prison camp and sees a female prisoner, who is feeling very cold. Ho Chi Minh takes off his coat and gives it to her.
When I write about Ho Chi Minh, I try to portray him as a simple person to highlight his greatness.
Well-known actor Bui Bai Binh played President Ho. I like his acting very much, especially in a scene that shows the president conferring the title of 'General' on Vo Nguyen Giap. In the script, I depicted Ho Chi Minh as telling Gen Giap with tears in his eyes, "Van, I know you prefer taking a pen to a gun. Reluctantly, you are a General."
All scenes show Ho Chi Minh's nature.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you want to focus on Ho Chi Minh's prophecy?
In a historic book Ho Chi Minh wrote in 1941 in the six-eight-metre poem style, he said Viet Nam would be independent in 1945.
In another instance, during the World War II, he said besides the Soviet Union, there would be many other socialist countries.
In early 1968, he predicted that Americans would only yield after they lose a battle in Ha Noi.
In 1960, President Ho said the north and the south of Viet Nam would unify.
In the 1947-48 period, the French launched a major offensive against the northern mountainous province of Cao Bang, the very cradle of the resistance war. President Ho Chi Minh wrote in his short story entitled Giac Ngu 10 Nam (Ten-Year Sleeping) that Ha Noi would be liberated without fierce battles.
It is true our beloved Ha Noi was liberated on October 10, 1954, thanks to the Geneva Accord and the French withdrawal from Ha Noi. History proves that all his prophecies came true.
Inner Sanctum: You joined the army in 1971 when you were a second-year student at the Ha Noi University. Have you been obsessed with the war?
I remember my teacher in Ha Noi University's literature department. He saw us off to the battlefield. I was told later that my teacher burst into tears after our bus left. He didn't know when his students would return.
Many other Vietnamese soldiers and I preferred a pen to a gun.
I have been obsessed with the war. My older son, who is a second-year student of filmmaking, told me that his first movie would be about me being obsessed with war. He has seen me walk in my sleep sometimes and taking a bottle of Coca-Cola from the refrigerator to give to my imaginary comrade.
Inner Sanctum: Is that the reason why your scripts are always about history?
I'm a native of Ha Noi and want to write about my beloved capital. In The Prophet, I wanted to highlight Ho Chi Minh's military genius. He was a military leader but loved peace.
I still want to write about Ho Chi Minh and I think he is alive in Vietnamese life.
I continue to write about soldiers. I'm preparing to write a script about soldiers in modern life and the integration progress. It will tell the story of soldiers on two sides, their messages and what they want to say about war. It will be about sharing, sympathy and forgiving. It is about being human, the only thing that can heal the world. — VNS