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Female filmmaker seeks historical truth

Update: March, 06/2016 - 14:17
After answers: Documentary filmmaker Le Phong Lan (centre) films a scene. — Photo courtesy of Ban Sac Viet Film

Documentary series lays out the story behind the monumental battle between the US airforce and Vietnamese restistance fighters. Thu Anh reports.

A TV series on the historic victory, the so-called "Dien Bien Phu in the Air in Ha Noi" in late December 1972 during the American air war of destruction against North Viet Nam will be broadcast on Dong Nai Radio and Television next week.

The three-part series, Dinh Cao Chien Thang (Victory Peak), was directed by Le Phong Lan, one of the country's few female documentary filmmakers.

It focuses on the events during the 12 days and nights of the American air blitz on Ha Noi.

The work also features the spirit and brainpower of Vietnamese soldiers and people in the Ho Chi Minh era, who were far from being defeated by the unimaginable power of the US Air Force. The Vietnamese were able to shoot down dozens of B-52 "flying fortresses".

Their victory surprised the international public and reminded them of the Dien Bien Phu Battle victory over the French colonialists in 1954.

It changed the war situation and opened a new period for Vietnamese to advance and liberate the nation.

The film won the Golden Lotus prize for the best documentary at the 19th Viet Nam Film Festival held by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism last December.

"My staff and I spent several months meeting and interviewing dozens of soldiers, historians and war researchers before filming. We wanted our work to feature real stories and real people from the past and present," said Lan, the film's director.

"I tried my best to make Dinh Cao Chien Thang and other films to be not just about factual filmmaking but also about a portrayal of people," she added.

In an interview with local media before the release of the film, Lan said she wanted to tell true stories about the war to help younger generations evaluate it on their own.

"For me, my work is not just about showing death and weapons, but also reaching for peace and love. After watching, audiences learn lessons and know why and how love can protect peace," she said.

A pioneer

Lan has captured the facts of history and society on camera for the last 20 years.

A skilled scriptwriter and director, she worked for some state-owned and private film companies and television stations before opening her own studio, Ban Sac Viet Film, in 2014.

"I decided to run my own company because I want to offer opportunities to young filmmakers," said the 50-year-old director.

According to Lan, the industry needs active people who have good minds and knowledge, as well as professional skills.

"To create a quality documentary, filmmakers should work professionally and constantly spend time improving themselves. They also need to consider the facts and people from multiple perspectives," she said.

"I want my staff to produce quality works and market them professionally as well," she added.

A graduate in film from the Viet Nam Cinematography College in HCM City in 1993, Lan decided to devote her life to making documentaries. Her favourite topic is war.

"I discovered myself through making documentaries on military conflicts. I wanted my film to improve the mind and knowledge of youth and to scare them so they say 'no' to war," she said.

For her films, Lan writes the screenplay and commentary, and also conducts the interviews.

She produced 14 TV series and films, such as Huyen Thoai Ve Tuong Tinh Bao Pham Xuan An (Legendary Major General-Spy Pham Xuan An), Dai Tuong Nguyen Chi Thanh – Canh Chim Khong Moi (General Nguyen Chi Thanh – Unweary Wings) and Hiep Dinh Paris 1973 (Paris Peace Accord).

One of her better-known works is Mau Than 1968 (The Mau Than Offensive in Spring 1968), a 12-part series produced in 2012.

The film has been rebroadcast several times on channels of provincial television stations.

She and her cameraman travelled around Viet Nam and the US, meeting and interviewing dozens of soldiers, historians and war researchers.

She used reports by both Vietnamese and foreign filmmakers besides her interviews to tell real stories behind the offensive during the American war of 20 years.

"I have received mixed reviews since Mau Than 1968 was first broadcast on Viet Nam Television's VTV1 channel in 2013," said Lan.

"I got several e-mails from Vietnamese at home and overseas Vietnamese who witnessed the offensive. Some of them shared opposite thoughts about my film. I appreciated all of their ideas."

Lan said that she refused to put her ideas into the work, trying to remain neutral during filming.

"All my works are based on facts that I have discovered, researched and felt. I select the facts carefully and in detail and put them into my work in the most simple and direct way," she said.

"Through my work, I hope that audiences, particularly younger generations, can evaluate the war on their own," she said.

For Lan, a useful work should live for a long time and change the minds of audiences.

Her studio has completed a 15-part series titled Dan Toc Viet – Hanh Trinh Vuon Ra Bien Lon (Vietnamese People - A Journey Toward the High Sea), which features Vietnamese and their challenges and opportunities in a globalised world.

The film also highlights Vietnamese, their heroic victories and losses under wars.

"I'm working on two documentaries on wars in Viet Nam from different times in history. I will travel to the US this year and meet historians involved in research," she said. — VNS

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