Viet Nam News
Meritorious Artist and director Phạm Lê Nam has made six documentary films about the border battles against China invasion in Vị Xuyên District in the northern province of Hà Giang. Born in Hà Nội and growing up in peace, Nam has had a lifelong interest in Vị Xuyên.
He has won prizes at the Golden Kite Awards and National Television Festival. In particular, two of his documentaries, Gửi Năm Tháng Sống Tặng Đồng Đội Tôi (Dedicate My Days to My Comrades) and Chuyện Ông Trưởng Thôn Quê Tôi (Story of My Village Chief) grabbed gold medals at the television festival.
Last year, Nam won the Silver Kite Award 2017 presented by the Việt Nam Cinematography Association and silver medal at the National Television Festival 2017 for Một Tấc Đất Không Lùi (Not Giving up an Inch of Land). He is major and currently deputy-director of the People’s Police Cinema.
Hạnh Nguyên spoke to director Nam about his work
You have made several popular documentaries about battles in Vị Xuyên. What made you interested in this subject?
War is not new theme but there is never enough to say about it, and especially the battle in Vị Xuyên. It was a fight to protect the nation’s northern border in the province of Hà Giang. My wife has an uncle who fought and died there. In early 2015, my wife and I went to Hang Dơi, Thanh Thủy border checkpoint witth China and met border guards there. We were told stories about the fighting and sacrifice of Vietnamese soldiers. When we burned incense at the thousands of graves I thought I had to do something.
I make films about Vị Xuyên only because I want the younger generation to learn about patriotism and to love their country as much as the older generations.
You are making a new documentary. What is the story you’ll tell in this film?
I met veterans from Army Division 356 in the northern province of Yên Bái who took part in the MB84 battle on July 12, 1984. They told me about the battle and thousands of martyrs whose remains have not yet been found. When they told me I felt that they were still unsettled by this.
Every July 12, veterans from around the country gather in Vị Xuyên to offer incense to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. They used to wish there was an official place to burn incense to pray for the martyrs. Veterans from Division 356 raised funds to build a memorial house dedicated to the fallen soldiers. The veterans’ story moved me and I decide to make a film entitled Ngôi Nhà Chung Trên Điểm Cao (Common House in High Position).
Through the film, I want to talk about loss and sacrifice, as well as the relationship between the comrades. It’s great to witness the veterans’ sentiment towards each other. I feel that each veteran is always anxious about Vị Xuyên and their comrades in arms.
Veteran Trần Hữu Quân is now a successful businessman. He is one of my uncle’s comrades. Over the past 30 years he has come to offer incense at my uncle’s altar twice a year, on July 27 which is the War Invalids and Martyrs Day and on my uncle’s death anniversary.
Others involved in the film are Trương Quý Hải and Nguyễn Văn Kim. Hải is a popular composer with many songs about the relationship between comrades, and Kim has made many trips to Vị Xuyên every year to work on charity projects in Nậm Ngặt Commune.
The documentary also features many veterans who were wounded but are not recognised as "war invalids" because they lost their personal papers. But they don’t blame it on the war. For them it is normal because all sons have to protect their motherland.
I want to tell these moving stories to the audience, praising the spirit and lifestyle of these veterans. They were ready to fight and die for the nation.
Could you tell us about working on the documentary with the veterans in Vị Xuyên?
I have many memories from making Gửi Năm Tháng Sống Tặng Đồng Đội Tôi. I named the film after lyrics in a song by veteran Hải. I didn’t have a script in mind before shooting, and it was only when I met the men involved that the story started to take shape.
I found the stories about love particularly moving. For example, Hòa and Thân were teammates. When Hòa was killed he asked Thân to take care of his wife and child. Thân married Hòa’s wife to keep his promise. Another veteran, Nguyễn Văn Tuấn was so badly wounded by an explosion that he was unable to recognise his mother. He was able to find love with a local girl and they now have two children who have graduated from university.
You have said you want to tell more stories about the border war. What are your plans for the future?
I think it is sacred to make films about the soldiers who protected the nation and made the ultimate sacrifice. Soldiers who fought in Vị Xuyên are now middle-aged, and officers such as major-generals Nguyễn Đức Huy and Nguyễn Hồng Sinh and colonel Nguyễn Lư are in their 80s. I don’t have much time to make more films about them.
The sacrifice of Vietnamese soldiers in Vị Xuyên was important and makes the land sacred. My films are not epics, rather they are simple and true. I will make a long television series about our soldiers in Vị Xuyên battles next year. -- VNS