|Road block: A scene from the cartoon Bicycle. The small bicyle has to get past big hurdles including a buffalo.
by Ha Nguyen
Tran Phuong Hoa, one of Viet Nam's leading cartoonists, will screen her much-awaited new 10-episode series, Two Cats Sitting on the Window, next year.
The animated film for children is based on writer Nguyen Ngoc Anh's story which was once quite popular among readers.
While cats usually chase and eat mice, in the film, a cat and a mouse become friends. It is their friendship that has helped to solve numerous difficulties and hitches between cats and mice.
"Children in the audience will enjoy the film and experience and learn more about love and affection," said Hoa.
Writer Nguyen Van Toai expressed much interest in Hoa's cartoons and in particular, recalled enjoying one of them, entitled Bicycle. "The film is quite simple but I like it so much because the bicycle overcame many obstacles, including a large one, namely a buffalo," Toai said.
French director Prakash Topsy lauded the film when it was screened at a festival in France.
"The film has good content that connects with the audience. It is not only enjoyable for Vietnamese viewers, but also understandable for foreign audiences," Topsy noted.
Hoa recalled that while making Bicycle, she had to face a member of the cultural management authorities who "told me to cut the image of the buffalo because he was afraid that the image alluded to a farmer, and a bicycle is never allowed to overcome a farmer".
But Hoa was determined to defend her ideas. "I told them that the buffalo is only an obstacle that the bicycle meets along the way. It is only a symbolic image of difficulty that man has to find a way to overcome."
After overcoming "winds and waves" of obstacles, the film was finally completed and shown, receiving much praise and applause from colleagues and audiences.
Hoa has expressed concern for Viet Nam's cartoon industry and observed that children were more interested in foreign cartoons such as Doraemon and Tom and Jerry than in local ones.
This was the norm for decades, but recently, several 3D cartoons became hits among Vietnamese children. The films include Dream of Little Frog by director Ha Bac, A Child of a Dragon by Minh Tri, Hoa's husband, and Yellow Cow by young director Tran Khanh Huyen, as well as Space of Sky by director Le Binh and Man of Straw by director Phung Van Ha.
The use of digital technology has helped to improve the quality of local cartoons, Hoa said, adding that the industry was facing a lack of quality 3D film technicians.
Hoa recalled that while making Two Cats Sitting on the Window, she could not find a technician who could give her cat smooth and shiny fur. In countries with advanced cinematographic technology, an artist may just describe his or her ideas, and the technology would easily make the ideas come alive.
"We have lots of legends that could be used in making cartoons, but to create a symbolic character, we should build a dozen 100-episode series a year rather than the 10 films of 10 minutes each we've produced," explained Hoa.
In addition, Viet Nam does not have a specific channel and time for showing local cartoons, making it difficult for cartoon-loving audiences to watch them.
Asked about her ideas on how to help the Vietnamese cartoon industry develop, Hoa said this required a long-term strategy because investments in personnel, means and technology would come in when the country would decide to make cartoons a priority.
Born to People's Artist Tran Vu and Meritorious Artist Duc Hoan, Hoa inherited her passion for art from her parents.
After graduating from the Art University in Viet Nam, Hoa had furthered study at the Soviet Union's Vgik University more than 30 years ago. She chose to study cartoons because "at that time, I found it to be new and quite attractive."
Whether long or short, cartoons bring much joy to children and provide directors and animators with dreams, hopes and numerous insights on life that help promote creativity, she added.
After graduating from Vgik University, Hoa became an official animator in more than 30 cartoon films before taking over her father's career as director.
In 1997, Hoa began directing cartoons and quickly achieved success and fame. She bagged two Gold Lotus Prizes at the national film festival for Bicycle and Story of Shoes.
Two years later, she won a gold medal at a national film contest for her 100-episode historical series Loa Citadel's Ancient Story.
She won numerous silver medals for her animated films and the title of best director thrice.
In 2012, she won the title of People's Artist, the highest honour for an artist in Viet Nam.
Hoa attributed her success to her husband, People's Artist Minh Tri. For many years, they were ‘a model couple' in both daily life and work.
They have collaborated in making numerous films where she was the animator and he was the director. They won the titles of best animator and director for the film A General Watches A Temple.
"I have learned a lot from my husband. His work is always rich in ideas, with strong messages and profound philosophy. He told me to be serious about my work which should be new and special to enable me create my own mark," Hoa said.
As a result, Tri has won the title of best director thrice, as well as a gold medal at the national film festival for the long multiple-episode cartoon Adventure of the Golden Bee and the Golden Kite for A Child of a Dragon.
Hoa felt proud of her son Nguyen The Vinh, who has successfully followed the footsteps of his grandparents and parents to become a director of the Viet Nam Feature Film Studio 1.
People's Artist Tran Phuong said that the work of a director was quite tough and required talent, efforts and sacrifice. In spite of this, all members of Hoa's family, from her parents to her husband and her son, found their passion in directorial work. They all wish to contribute to making quality films.
Hoa expressed hopes that Vietnamese cartoons would someday have their own time slot and channel on national television. — VNS