|Director Nguyễn Phan Linh Đan. Photo Alex Hass|
Filmmaker Nguyễn Phan Linh Đan's first independent project Tấm Ván Phóng Dao (If Wood Could Cry, It Could Cry Blood) is one of ten film projects selected by La Fabrique Cinéma to gain access to international producers and filmmakers at Cannes.
Đan became the first female Vietnamese director of photography when she worked on Bí Mật Của Gió (Secrets of the Wind) in 2020. She won the National Award for Best Cinematography at the Asian Academy Creative Awards.
Tấm Ván Phóng Dao is her first feature film and has already won the ArteKino Awards at the Asian Project Market of Busan International Film Festival in 2021, and was an official selection at Singapore International Film Festival's Southeast Asian Film Lab.
Could you tell about Tấm Ván Phóng Dao?
Tấm Ván Phóng Dao is adapted from a novel by actor-writer Mạc Can. He is a Vietnamese artist who used to perform abroad. He tells a story of his family in the 1950s and his childhood in his family's travelling circus. His father was a popular circus artist. When he was small he and his brothers performed a life-threatening act of knife throwing.
The film will centre on a family-run travelling circus. Ba, a 14-year-old boy, holds a wooden board for his older brother, Hai, to throw knives at, while their little sister, Tư, stands in front of the cutting board as the target girl. His brother's talent and his little sister's fearless attitude draw the blueprint for a tragedy waiting to happen.
The movie unveils the world inside Ba’s head, as he attempts to help his sister from the fate that he has foreseen in his dreams, under the financial pressure of their family and the political pressure of the country entering the war.
Why are you interested in this 1950s novel and why did you decide to adapt it for the big screen?
I went to study and work in New York and spent time learning about Vietnamese history. The 1950s is a very important decade for me because I was told by my maternal great-grandfather about the French colonial period. He also taught me French. Nowadays, only a few young people speak French in Việt Nam. In my big family, some still speak French.
I found the novel when I researched Vietnamese history during this period. I think I can understand many details in the novel and I find the story close to me.
The film tells Mạc Can's story but it is also my story.
How's the project going?
I finished the film script. It was introduced in Cannes' La Fabrique Cinema and other programmes looking for financial and investment sources. Presently, it has received 30 per cent of the total budget from domestic resources.
It is really difficult for an independent project looking for funding in-country, so we have to seek opportunities at international film festivals.
I'm seeking coordination with Southeast Asian investors in Singapore and the Phillippines. I also begin casting and hopefully shooting a film in the summer of 2023 near the Mekong River Delta in the south of Việt Nam.
How did your project get support from La Fabrique Cinema?
Before coming to Cannes, the ten projects from ten countries had a three-week meeting. It was difficult to set the meeting time for all because we are from different countries with different time zones.
We met people helping us by reading the film script. They guided us on how to develop the project and who we should contact in Cannes. When we came to Cannes, they helped us to make appointments with cinema companies and sponsors who are suitable for our projects.
We also have a chance to meet French composers at Cannes. During my time there, I met potential producers from Europe.
I hope that the project will have more international investors so it can come to fruition as soon as possible. However, it takes a long time and I need to be patient.
Making an independent film is very hard, from coordinating with producers from different countries to taking part in film markets and film labs. Normally, it takes a few years to have official partners and enough money.
Why did you return to Việt Nam after your studies in the US? What do you expect from filmmaking in Việt Nam?
I graduated in film directing, script editing and photography at the Department of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University in 2018.
I began working with film crews in New York when I was a third-year student. I also stayed and worked in the US one year after graduation.
During my time living and working abroad, I have had chances to come to international film festivals. But I want to take part in the international film festivals as a Vietnamese filmmaker.
Vietnamese cinema is growing and Vietnamese independent films have been introduced into the world. I want to see the growth and join the film industry in any role.
Could you tell me about your experience in bringing your first film to the world?
I think I'm very young and just beginning with my first independent project. I need to learn from my colleagues. Personally, I think that it is necessary to develop both commercial and arthouse movies.
I see that talented Vietnamese people can make good independent movies. Presently, Vietnamese cinema is not invested much into by the government. I believe that in the future there will have a big investment in filmmaking. - VNS