Director Xuân Phước (right) during a working session. Photo courtesy of Xuân Phước Studio
When HCM City was locked down during the pandemic, film director Xuân Phước volunteered to help people in need, and was moved witnessing how people helped each other to overcome hardships. He composed Sài Gòn Mùa Thương (Sài Gòn – Season of Love) and has recently released three versions of the music video of the song with the participation of many actors, singers, musicians, and medical workers. Inner Sanctum talks with Phước about the song and his future film.
Inner Sanctum: What made you compose the song Sài Gòn Mùa Thương (Sài Gòn – Season of Love)?
Although I was not born in HCM City I grew up and have been stuck with the city since I was a little boy. It has been an important part of my life, with my memories of family, relatives and friends.
When I was forced to stay at home as the city was locked down, I was feeling down a little but knew I had to share people’s difficulties and help them as much as possible like many of my colleagues.
Luckily, I connected with friends who were generous to donate rice, vegetables and other necessities.
Director Xuân Phước in a protective gown. Photo courtesy of Xuân Phước Studio
During my charity work, I witnessed many local residents who brought their own things and money for people in need. I also connected with a group of young people who focused on assisting F0 patients. We provided free oxygen, took care of patients at home, contacted and sent urgent cases to hospitals.
It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t recognise when the city’s rainy season was to begin. I could not see people have a nap under the shadow of big trees on hot sunny days. It was the first time I felt that there was one season in my city -- the season of love. So, I composed the song.
Inner Sanctum: How long did it take to compose? You are known as a movie director, now you show you are a composer. Would you like to be a musician?
I did it pretty fast, in about 15 days although I am not a professional musician. Previously, I learnt music composition at HCM City’s Conservatory of Music but it was 20 years ago. Now I have a chance to use the knowledge.
I have a special passion for music but it passed me by. I have been involved in the film and television industry for many years. It is my fate, my love and obsession that I cannot run away from.
I often compose some works, but mostly for my films. Movie music requires people to have knowledge and emotions. My music background and movie experience is an advantage for me in composing.
Inner Sanctum: What made you jump into so many pandemic hotspots for filming? What moved you the most?
To win people’s hearts, all artistic works, not only film music, must be made from our hearts and emotions. I produced my music video from what I saw and felt during the most difficult days in the city’s fight against the coronavirus.
Only when you experience these painful moments can you understand the local residents' personalities. It is a special city, generous and tolerant. Local citizens helped each other through a fierce battle, having no gun shots but great losses and mourning. The war has not ended yet. This is the season of mourning but also of loving and caring.
The image that obsessed me the most was the quiet streets of this city that never sleeps. Here and there, we heard the sound of an ambulance and we saw the ‘do not cross’ lines and wire fences which became temporal symbols of the city. The residents were isolated but we thought about each other; we were in social distancing but we were not separated. We loved each other.
Many people, old and young, were ready to jump into hotspots, accepting disease risk and even the threat of death to help people in need. A number never went back to their family.
I am lucky as I was strong enough to work, although sometimes I could not breathe in the protective gown. Once, I suddenly stopped breathing for some seconds, nearly fainting, but saw other people in the same gowns working hard with no complaint. The moment pushed me, and I told myself to stay strong to work harder.
Inner Sanctum: Did you have any difficulties making the music videos?
I am a movie director, general director of the Xuân Phước Film Studio, and a lecturer at the HCM City University of Theatre and Cinema so most of current actors and actresses are my students at school and my colleagues at the studio. When I shared my idea of the videos, they were excited to take part, and I made different versions to have enough places for all of their recordings.
I had a little difficulty when I invited doctors to sing. They agreed to help but were always busy. They had not enough time to work, eat and even sleep. It was because of love that they tried their best to join the project.
I also had to deal with some technical problems. Some of my friends took on different parts in the working process such as recording, arranging, remixing and mastering. We also had to work online so the quality of the music videos was not as good as expected. But I am happy and appreciate them as we brought meaningful works to our audience and to the city -- our home.
Inner Sanctum: Can you share something about the recordings you have made? What will you do next?
I recorded a story about a young soldier who was on duty and could not go home when a family member died. I shot a community of poor people in Bình Tân District. I also filmed charity activities of various groups of people in various corners of the city.
I cried seeing two policemen help a woman to deliver a baby on the street. A face mask string was used to tie the baby’s umbilical cord. I was moved recording families receiving their relatives’ ashes, after they died of COVID-19.
I saw the hustle and bustle of HCM City changing into a quiet and dull place with people struggling with bites and pills.
These images and people have changed my mindset, lifestyle, behaviour and working culture.
HCM City has gradually entered the new normal period. I will film projects for Tết (Lunar New Year festival) and television films. Xuân Phước Film Studio will also work in communications to support enterprises and companies to recover after the crisis.
COVID-19 will be a topic in my movies. I have a lot of documents and materials for my chronicle entitled Nghe Thành Phố Thở (Listening to City’s Breath).
Each story in the chronicle, I believe, will be a breath of HCM City in the hard days. They will be in my mind forever. And I will do the movie as an order from my heart. VNS