Viet Nam News
By Martin Rama, for Việt Nam News, from Washington DC
"I lived in Hà Nội from 2002 until 2010, an extraordinary period for Việt Nam’s economic and social development. Those years also gave me the opportunity to fully appreciate what a unique city Hà Nội is. Like many other foreigners, I had fallen for Hà Nội the first time I visited, but living there reinforced my enthusiasm. I only regretted that Hanoians themselves seemed to miss what made their city so special, and what was worth preserving while modernizing its infrastructure and housing.
It was the fear of seeing irreversible decisions being made that pushed me to write the book Hanoi Promenade. At the time, I was getting increasingly interested in urban economics and wanted to call attention to what, in my view, distinguished Hà Nội from other cities. That has to do much more with the atmosphere, with the “sense of place”, than with spectacular architecture. While we know how to preserve a UNESCO heritage landmark, we find it much more difficult to maintain meaningful spaces and distinctive looks of entire cities. In fact, the atmosphere of Hà Nội owes a lot to places like the unpretentious but charming courtyard where the Hanoi Cinémathèque is located.
I watched many movies at the Hanoi Cinémathèque, as I lived only a few blocks away, on Trần Hưng Đạo Street. In the evenings, once or twice a week, I would walk over, buy a beer at the bar and take it with me to enjoy the screenings. Seats C6 and C7 were my favorites. From them I saw many excellent movies, including films nominated for Oscars, as well as classics of world cinematography, but also less-well-known gems shared by the various foreign embassies in Hà Nội.
My real favorites were movies related to Việt Nam. I was impressed by the depth and sensitivity of The Deserted Valley, the story of a teacher in the northern mountains. I was carried away by A Dream in Hanoi, a documentary about two theater companies, one Vietnamese and the other American, coming together to stage Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was touched by Mai’s America, about a Vietnamese school girl who gets a scholarship to study in the US but ends up being hosted by struggling families in deep Mississippi. And what made the experience unforgettable was, on many occasions, to have a chance to discuss the films with the directors, actors or even the real characters behind the movies. This is a privilege that few cinema-lovers in the world get, but it was a frequent occurrence at the Hanoi Cinémathèque." — VNS