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Film studio lives on in public’s heart

Update: October, 15/2017 - 09:00
Illustration by Trịnh Lập
Viet Nam News

By Hoàng Anh

As the equitisation process of the Việt Nam Feature Film Studio (VFS) came to a conclusion earlier this year, it was a bitter moment when filmmakers and fans of the studio learned that the VFS’s brand value was determined at zero Vietnamese dong.

It’s ridiculous that Việt Nam’s first film studio is worth zero Vietnamese dong. Established in 1953, the studio was once the country’s most prominent. Many of its works have gone down in Vietnamese history as classics of cinema.

Those masterpieces and some 400 others produced by the studio are not just movies. They help tell the nation’s story in its struggle for independence and longing for peace to the international community during time of war. They portray the Vietnamese people during those hard years, from soldiers who laid down their lives on the front line, mothers and wives who wept silently for their loved ones to children who held onto their dreams even when fighter jets and bombers were tearing up the sky above.

Generations of Vietnamese watched those movies growing up. Their scenes and scripts became everyday expressions, actors and actresses were immortalised for their characters. Those were not just moments on a silver screen; they have become a part of our very own identities.

When a foreign friend of mine, who was keen on learning about Vietnamese culture asked my uncle, who is a veteran culture expert, to produce a list of Vietnamese movies to watch, it wasn’t the blockbusters that boasted millions of dollars at the box office that he offered. It was Vĩ tuyến 17 – Ngày và đêm (The 17th Parallel, Nights and Days), Em bé Hà Nội (Girl of Hà Nội), and Bao giờ cho đến tháng mười (When the Tenth Month Comes), movies he said that would always have a place in the hearts of millions of Vietnamese viewers and had helped them to become who they are today.

Decision makers cited complicated steps of brand evaluation, bad investments and money loss. They insisted the process adhered strictly to standards and regulations. But why does it leave such a bitter taste? In the world of accounting figures and financial reports, does the name of such an iconic film studio of Vietnamese cinema really mean nothing?

The first VFS shareholder meeting was held in June. It didn’t take long for even more unpleasant stories to make the headlines of newspapers in town. The new owner of the film studio – Vivaso, a commercial waterway transport company whose experience in making movies is another zero in this story – could not provide a plan for the studio to continue its film making.

It should not come as a surprise. Many feared for the studio’s future when the majority of its shares were acquired by a commercial company but perhaps none would have expected the manner of the new owner in handling the matter.

Meetings between film makers and the new management soon turned into heated arguments and a battle of words ensued, with both sides accusing the other of ill intentions and unprofessionalism. It reached a point where Vivaso’s CEO was recorded making inappropriate remarks, which film makers considered insults, to his new employees.

The conflict attracted so much public attention that the culture ministry demanded the CEO watch his words carefully from now on, but the argument will likely drag on unless Vivaso can produce a detailed plan to revive the studio’s film production.

Looking back on Vietnamese cinema in recent years, it is difficult to name even a handful of high quality films. Popular movies were adapted from foreign scripts, either Hollywood or South Korean dramas, and produced by foreign owned studios. While such movies may have been commercially successful, they are, by nature, unable to give a depiction of reality and provide detailed portraits of Vietnamese people.

In the age of globalisation, many countries have made it a priority to develop their film making industry as a way of preserving and promoting their culture. It is in this light that the revival of the VFS is of significant importance. While Vietnamese film makers are struggling to find a way to survive, Middle Eastern and Asian cinema power houses such as Iran and Japan are netting numerous internationally acclaimed awards with proper investment and strategy.

The studio’s equitisation is now under investigation. While the VFS brand was commercially valued at zero Vietnamese dong it attracted enough attention from the public that the Government stepped in to look into the equitisation process.

We’ll leave potential violations and negligence during the process to the government inspectors. To the true fans of the iconic film studio, the most important questions are how to restore the studio to its former glory and when Vietnamese people will be able to watch quality Vietnamese movies like the VFS was once able to produce. — VNS

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