Art for Agent Orange victims

September 23, 2008

Debra Jeanne Kraus

An American woman has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for victims of Agent Orange. She spoke to Thanh Nien Daily during her second visit to Vietnam with the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Fund.

Agent Orange campaigner Debra Jeanne Kraus has temporarily suspended her activism because she is losing another family member.

The 54-year-old Kraus lost her Vietnam veteran husband to Agent Orange-related lung cancer 12 years ago. Now she is losing her 88-year-old mother to heart failure.

Kraus intends to resume her life’s work soon, including completing an essay she intended to enter into a competition run by a Vietnamese newspaper to support the ongoing lawsuit against the American manufacturers of toxic herbicides used in the Vietnam War.

The Californian has already created an installation art project called Fiat Lux (Let There be Light) to raise awareness of the deadly effects of Agent Orange.

“[This] project artwork will end when I’m no longer able to work,” she says.

Kraus’s installation, which includes paintings, photos, sculptures, ceramics, videos and performance pieces, has been exhibited twice in the U.S and presented to an international conference on Agent Orange/dioxin victims in Hanoi in 2006.

Fiat Lux is brutal in its criticism of American use of toxic herbicides at the time of deployment, the US cared only about winning the war, not the toxicity of the herbicides it used.

After illnesses and birth defects were first detected by those who designed the herbicides, it took a long time for the American government to ban its use.

And now, four decades later, the US government is still denying a link between Agent Orange and the birth defects and other illnesses many Vietnamese and Vietnam War veterans still suffer.

Between 1961 and 1971, US troops sprayed about 80 million liters of defoliants, including Agent Orange, on Vietnamese forests to deprive southern Vietnamese guerillas of their cover and crops.

As many as 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to dioxin, the carcinogenic chemical found in Agent Orange and around 3 million of them have suffered serious health problems, according to Vietnam Association of Agent Orange/dioxin victims (VAVA).

In 2004, VAVA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vietnamese victims against 37 American chemical companies that produced toxic chemicals used during the war.

A US court dismissed the suit on the ground that these chemicals weren’t banned at the time. Last year, VAVA appealed and was again dismissed. It plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court next month.

Also last year, the American Congress set aside US$3 million for dioxin cleanup throughout Vietnam, especially in Agent Orange “hotspots” such as Da Nang City and Bien Hoa Town, Dong Nai Province. Inspired by the international pop art movement of the 1960s, Kraus incorporated even the most commonplace objects into her art to help convey her message.

In Living Without, a piece showing several body organs destroyed by Agent Orange, the artist used her husband’s X-ray images.

The letters and photos he sent home during his six-month tour in Vietnam add a realistic touch to another work, Homecoming, which reproduces Vietnam’s defoliated and burned forests.

Kraus says she started her project out of “anger and resentment” in 1998, two years after her husband died.

On the day he died, May 28, 1996, former US President Bill Clinton and the Department of Veterans Affairs included adenocarcinoma of the lung, the secondary cancer that caused her husband’s death, in its list of Agent Orange-related diseases.

Though she was later compensated with a monthly allowance and an educational stipend, the compensation came too little too late.

“The government didn’t admit their guilt for poisoning him and they didn’t apologize,” she says.

Nor would his name, Peter Charles Kraus, ever be engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., that honors only Vietnam War veterans who were killed in action.

So, “childless, heavily indebted and widowed from a war that had ended decades earlier,” Kraus went back to school to find “answers.”

But what she found was more questions about the American government’s use of Agent Orange. She also found something far more important: art.

“Its visual language speaks to the soul,” she says. “That’s where the change in our governments must occur.”

Her first two exhibitions generated “overwhelming” responses. The first Fiat Lux show was held at the University of California, Berkeley, shortly after the American invasion on Iraq in 2003 and the second at Los Angeles Valley College during the presidential election in 2004.

Kraus received many notes from audience members saying things like “thank you,” to “I miss my friend who’s currently serving in Iraq,” to deeply personal questions about whether they should have children.

“They were in tears. They were physically moved. They wrote papers,” Kraus said.

Fiat Lux is in storage now, ready to be shown again once Kraus resumes her campaigning.

Kraus plans to add new pieces to the project, which she calls “an artistic dialogue” about Agent Orange.

Those new works – several paintings about the freedom and peace Vietnam is now experiencing and a project about the global food chain – reflect her widened interest.

After visiting Vietnam three times – twice with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and once to attend the conference in Hanoi – Kraus has seen a country forging ahead despite lingering pain from the past.

The fight for justice for those affected by Agent Orange needs to be fought globally, says Kraus, who uses the plural when talking about “government.”

She said the fight extends beyond the American government’s unscrupulous use of toxic herbicides to win a war. It also includes the extensive testing and use of these chemicals by several governments, including the US and New Zealand, and the other toxic chemicals that have been introduced to the global food chain.

For Kraus, of the many painful legacies of the Vietnam War, helping Agent Orange/Dioxin victims and cleaning up contaminated soil and water should be the top priority of American and Vietnamese governments.

“Yes, [removing] unexploded ordnance is important because agriculture is at stake. Children are at stake, families are at stake, but the level of public Agent Orange/Dioxin exposure is a much more important issue at this time. It’s been 40-plus years.”

Kraus is part of the NGO Agent Orange Working Group (AOWG) which coordinates activities to clean up dioxin-contaminated areas in Vietnam.

At present, this organization is channeling funds from the U.S government and other sources to support agencies such as United Nations Development Program and the Ford Foundation to carry out remediation work throughout the country.

Fellow Agent Orange activist Vern Weitzel, who manages AOWG’s email list, heard Kraus’ speech to an international conference in Hanoi two years ago.

“I was very impressed,” he said. “But clearly, I was not the only person in the meeting to empathize with this lady from California whose values and emotions are like those in Vietnam who have suffered loss.”

Weitzel, a former meteorologist for the US army during the war, said when it comes to Agent Orange, most NGOs’ approach is to help disabled people regardless of the causes of their disabilities.

Kraus says the US National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine is reluctant to admit many cancers and illnesses, including birth defects, are connected to the dioxin in Agent Orange because so many other defoliants were used during the war.

Kraus believes governments worldwide do not push hard enough for scientific research that would explain what is going on.

“It’s all about money,” she says. Yet, Kraus has gone through enough to know that ultimately, “understanding and forgiveness,” rather than acrimonious criticism, is the answer.

“[So] much has changed since the war,” says her friend, photographer Justin Mott, who saw many Vietnam War veterans show up to support the VAVA lawsuit in a public conference in San Francisco last year.

So it’s compassion that Kraus wants. “It will take compassionate presidents from all countries to move [research] forward for the answers.”

“From the Earth to the Moon and Back,” a piece in Debra Jeanne Kraus’s Fiat Lux project. This work positions the moon equal in size to the earth, to condemn the American government for spending billions of dollar on space mission yet choosing not to fund research on dioxin’s effects on human health in the 1960s.

Writer takes motorcycle trip through nation

By WILLIAM KETTER
CNHI News Service
The 1975 photograph of the last Marine helicopter lifting off the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, a long line of luckless Vietnamese evacuees stranded below, created an indelible portrait of human desperation.

Those left behind had been soldiers in the defeated Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), or friends of the U.S. government. They anticipated dreadful consequences at the hands of Ho Chi Minh’s victorious vassals.

They were right. The communist regime executed those considered most disloyal to the nationalist cause. Others were sentenced to long prison terms. But most were sent to so-called re-education camps to embrace the socialist credo of, do as you’re told, toil for the common good, and forget about getting ahead through self-initiative.

Fortunately, for Vietnam’s future, the economic lessons of communism didn’t take hold. And 20 years after the war’s end, Vietnam abandoned strict control over everyday commerce and instead encouraged the awakening of an entrepreneurial spirit not seen since the American presence.

Open-market capitalism spawned new businesses, trade with former enemies, private investment -and a government ambition to attract hard currency through aggressive promotion of tourism.

The goal: turn the bloody sites of war into tourist shrines that might deliver badly-needed foreign dollars.

Sites such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an infamous series of zigzag paths that fed weapons and supplies to the communist troops in the south. Bombed heavily by American forces during the war, it is considered the national symbol of success.

Thus the government committed more than $400 million to restoring the historically important sections of the trail, and expanding it all the way to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. The highway project is expected to reduce congestion on narrow coastal Highway One, the only other north-south artery connecting the once-divided country.

Riding a motorcycle along the trail requires dodging water buffalo, cows, goats, dogs, ducks, chickens and pigs – and keeping your balance when large transport trucks or buses force you off the road. You also need to be alert to motorbikes and pedestrians darting out from side streets in towns and villages.

Surprisingly, however, construction crews have converted muddy jungle tracks into a shiny black thoroughfare that tourists can traverse by motorcycle, bicycle or foot.

Recommended stops include those sections bombed by American planes, and also sprayed with the powerful herbicide Agent Orange to expose supply and troop movements. The effects of the chemical are still visible as stunted foliage along the foothills and riverbank mangroves of north-central Vietnam.

The original trail extended into Laos and Cambodia, covering more than 10,000 miles. Thick jungle growth claimed most of it after the war. But strategic sections were maintained as a reminder of the communist will for an undivided nation.

The paved trail will measure about 1,000 miles when finished. Our merry band of bikers drove about half of it, starting at Tan Ky in the north and ending at Hue near the 17th parallel, the old dividing line between north and south ironically known as the demilitarized zone. Ironic because more military action occurred within the zone than any other section of Vietnam.

War memorials dot the rebuilt trail, including an impressive 12-foot marble monument to the “victims” of Deo Da Deo mountain pass. American B-52s dropped tons of explosives and chemicals on this highest point of the trail near Phong Nha.

Phong Nha is also the scene of the Ke Bang caves, the oldest and largest limestone caverns in Asia. They are part of a huge national park and one of the premier tourist sites in the country, drawing visitors from more than 100 nations.

The spectacular formations have enchanting names like Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. During the Vietnam war, they were used to protect munitions from B-52 raids. Phong Nha, in central Vietnam, was a key supply station for the North during the war.

At Khe Sanh, the war’s most publicized battle site, a symbolic “victory” statue juts from a weed-infested field that once hosted a strategic U. S. Marine outpost and airfield. Three bloody encounters, including a 75-day siege in 1968, are recounted in a nearby museum. Captured American tanks, helicopters and other war relics remind visitors that the final triumph belonged to the communists.

“It was comparable to defeating the French at Dien Bien Phu,” remarks Nguyen Ngoc, the tour guide who prides himself on knowing the wartime history of his country. “It was that important; a critical psychological victory.”

More than 10,000 North Vietnamese and scores of American soldiers died at Khe Sanh. The Vietnamese burn incense and place flowers at the stone memorial’s base, which portrays a U.S. Marine raising his hands in surrender.

At Vietnam’s largest military burial ground, Truong Son Cemetery, mourners pay tribute to “heroes of the American war” by burning bundles of fake $100 U.S. bills in incense pots so the soldiers will enjoy a rich afterlife. The dollar, it’s explained, is worth far more than the Vietnamese dong, making it the preferred phony currency to honor the deceased.

“We hold no hostility toward Americans,” said Nguyen Van My, who described himself as a 66-year-old army war veteran during a brief chat at the cemetery. “We respect the dollar. It is a symbol of strength.”

By contrast, the dong has been slipping badly as inflation besets the Vietnamese economy. Twice devalued in the past year, it now exchanges at the rate of 16,800 dong for one American dollar. That makes Vietnam one of the few world bargains for U.S. tourists. Hotels, food, transportation, clothes and jewelry are inexpensive. Our eight-day trip, booked through the Hanoi tour company Offroad Vietnam, cost just $850 per person, including overnight accommodations, meals, Honda 160 cubic-centimeter motorcycles, fuel and two guides/interpreters.

We stayed in budget hotels, but the sheets were clean, the showers were hot, and even remote mountain stops featured air conditioning, although power blackouts occurred often during the early evening hours. And it did take a few nights to get used to the three-inch mattresses; a few mornings to develop patience for the coffee that slowly drips from a metal strainer atop the cup. But once done, it jolts you into the day’s activities.

The investment in tourism is paying off because Vietnam offers some of the most charming tropical scenery in the world. The mist rising from the land against the morning sky is resplendent. The lush mountains and gorges and verdant valleys and endless rivers create a colorful landscape. A coast line that stretches for hundreds of miles along the South China Sea makes it a marvel of geography.

It also makes you wonder where the country would be in today’s travel world had it not been mired in war for a half-century against the French, the Japanese, the Americans, the Cambodians and the Chinese.

William B. Ketter is vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., a news company based in Birmingham, Ala., that owns 89 daily newspapers, including the Commercial-News. Contact him at wketter@cnhi.com.

Award-Winning Film “The Rebel” Returns for Special Engagements In LA & OC

September 22, 2008 by vaalastaff



AWARD-WINNING FILM “THE REBEL” RETURNS FOR SPECIAL

ENGAGEMENTS IN LOS ANGELES, ORANGE COUNTIES

Dustin Nguyen Starrer Set for Promotional Screenings to Celebrate Official Ultimate Edition DVD Release; Star and Director To Appear

LOS ANGELES, CA – Suspense, action, romance and a touch of black magic ignite when the award-winning THE REBEL, by film director Charlie Nguyen charges back onto the big screen in a pair of special Southern California promotional screening engagements during the month of October.

THE REBEL will be presented on Oct. 3, 7 p.m. at the Bowers Museum’s Norma Kershaw Auditorium, 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana 92706, telephone: (714) 567-3695; and Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance 14, 1 East Main Street (corner Garfield Ave.), Alhambra 91801, telephone (626) 300-8312.  Director Charlie Nguyen and lead actor Dustin Nguyen (21 JUMP STREET; HEAVEN AND EARTH) are slated to appear, and will participate in a Q & A session following each screening.

Admission to the Oct. 3 screening is free to the public, with a pre-screening reception at 6 p.m.; admission to the Oct. 23 screening (presented on 35mm film) is $10 general, and $8 students, seniors and Friends of Visual Communications member with valid I.D.  Parking information available by calling the respective theaters.

The screenings, organized and presented by Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts organization and by Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), Southern California’s leading Vietnamese arts and culture organization and the presenter of the biennial Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF), coincide with the ultimate edition DVD release of the film.  Copies of the 2-disc set, packed with commentaries by the director and lead actors, exclusive interviews, deleted scenes, trailers and other extras will be available at both screenings for post-screening autograph sessions with the director and actor.

“Throughout its four decade-long history, Visual Communications has been committed to championing the best new work by Asian Pacific American artists,” said Shinae Yoon, Visual Communications Executive Director.  “The DVD release of THE REBEL is an important step toward spotlighting new and exciting filmmakers like Charlie Nguyen, and in cultivating a new generation of media artists who will carry the question of Asian Pacific diasporic identity forward.”

Celebrated as the highest grossing Vietnamese film ever made, THE REBEL stars contemporary Asian superstars Johnny Tri Nguyen (The Protector; Spiderman), Dustin Nguyen (“21 Jump Street,” Finishing the Game) and Vietnamese pop star/actress Ngo Thanh Van.  Set in Vietnam in the 1920s during the long-standing French colonization, rebel forces emerge to disrupt the foreign control as the French employ elite Vietnamese agents to destroy them.  Government agent Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) captures rebel operative Thuy (Ngo Thanh Van), only to escape with her when Cuong’s conflicted allegiances turn on a moment of brutal clarity.  Cuong and Thuy are in turn pursued by a power-mad agent (Dustin Nguyen) who harbors personal demons of his own at the hands of French colonizers.

THE REBEL has garnered worldwide critical and popular acclaim since its overflow 2007 World Premiere screening as the Opening Night feature of the Vietnamese International Film Festival.  The online movie magazine Film Threat has gushed over the film, proclaiming THE REBEL “So badass it hurts…but it hurts so good”; while Pop Journalism praised THE REBEL as “an achievement of martial arts ability anchored in an intriguing tale of politics, power and betrayal”.

Winner of the 2007 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature and the 2007 Vietnamese International Film Festival’s Audience Award, THE REBEL was soon after acquired for home distribution by The Weinstein Company, and is slated for release on Sept. 30, 2008.

“Both VAALA and Visual Communications are excited to team up to present THE REBEL to the greater Los Angeles and Orange County communities,” noted Ysa D. Le, Executive Director of Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association.  “I’d also like to call for everyone to buy the officially released DVDs to support the filmmakers, so that we could have more great films likeTHE REBEL.”

Founded in 1991 by a group of Vietnamese American journalists, artists and friends, Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) is a community-based non-profit organization that seeks to promote and enrich arts and culture by, for, and about the Vietnamese communities.  VAALA has organized numerous cultural events such as art exhibitions, book fairs, book signings, recitals, plays, lectures, the biennial Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF), the biennial Cinema Symposium, the annual Children’s Moon Festival Art Contest and year-long art and music classes.  VAALA recently developed smART Program, which offers free art workshops for non-profit youth organizations in the Orange County and Los Angeles areas.

Incorporated in 1970, Visual Communications is a non-profit Asian Pacific American media arts center that promotes intercultural understanding through the creation, presentation, preservation and support of media works by and about Asian Pacific Americans.  A pioneer in the national media arts arena, Visual Communications boasts a catalog currently comprising over 100 films and video produced through the organization; maintains a photographic archive of nearly 500,000 historical and contemporary images of Asian Pacific American histories and communities; conducts filmmaker training and education workshops and seminars; and organizes public exhibition events including the annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

For more information on the promotional screenings of THE REBEL; and for additional info about Visual Communications and VAALA programs and events, please visit www.vconline.org and www.vaala.org.

The Rebel Trailer from VAALA on Vimeo.

THÔNG CÁO BÁO CHÍ

September 22, 2008

Liên lạc: VAALA, (714) 893-6145; vaala91@yahoo.com

Visual Communications, (213) 680-4462, info@vconline.org

PHIM DÒNG MÁU ANH HÙNG (THE REBEL) CHIẾU TẠI QUẬN CAM VÀ LOS ANGELES NHÂN DỊP CHÍNH THỨC PHÁT HÀNH BỘ DVD-2-DĨA

*Đạo diễn Charlie Nguyễn và tài tử Dustin Nguyễn sẽ tham dự hai buổi chiếu phim để gặp gỡ khán giả*

LOS ANGELES – Những pha võ thuật hấp dẫn, ngoạn mục, đan vào một câu chuyện tình éo le trong bối cảnh lịch sử của thời kỳ chống Pháp sẽ trở lại với khán giả khi cuốn phim Dòng Máu Anh Hùng được trình chiếu trên màn ảnh rộng trong hai buổi chiếu đặc biệt tại quận Cam và Los Angeles vào tháng 10.  Hai buổi chiếu đặc biệt này nhằm quảng bá cho dịp phát hành chính thức cuốn phim dưới dạng DVD gồm 2 dĩa với nhiều phần phụ lục đặc biệt như phỏng vấn đạo diễn và các tài tử chính, dàn dựng các pha võ thuật, những cảnh đã quay nhưng không có trong phim, và trailers.  Bộ DVD-2-dĩa do hãng phim Weinstein và Genius Products sản xuất.

Buổi chiếu đặc biệt đầu tiên của phim Dòng Máu Anh Hùng dưới dạng DVD, sẽ được diễn ra vào lúc 6:00 P.M. (tiệc trà) và 7:00 P.M. (chiếu phim) ngày 3 tháng 10 tại Viện Bảo Tàng Bowers, 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana 92706, telephone: (714) 567-3695.  Vào cửa tham dự suất chiếu phim và tiệc trà tại Viện Bảo Tàng Bowers hoàn toàn miễn phí.

Buổi chiếu thứ nhì, bản 35 ly, sẽ được diễn ra vào lúc 7:30 P.M. ngày 23 tháng 10 tại rạp Edwards Alhambra Renaissance 14, 1 East Main Street (corner of Garfield Ave.),Alhambra 91801, telephone (626) 300-8312.  Giá vé tham dự suất chiếu ở rạp Edwards Alhambra Renaissance 14:  $10, sinh viên, quý vị cao niên và thành viên của Visual Communications $8.

Đạo diễn Charlie Nguyễn và tài tử Dustin Nguyễn (21 Jump Street và Finishing the Game) sẽ tham dự cả hai buổi chiếu để tiếp xúc với khán giả.

Hai buổi chiếu phim đặc biệt này do hai cơ quan văn hóa Visual Communications và Hội Văn Học Nghệ Thuật Việt Mỹ (VAALA) tổ chức. Visual Communications là một tổ chức hàng đầu về nghệ thuật truyền thông (media arts) của người Mỹ gốc Á.  Visual Communications tổ chức Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Á Châu Thái Bình Dương hàng năm tại Los Angeles.  Hội Văn Học Nghệ Thuật Việt Mỹ (VAALA) thực hiện Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Việt Nam Quốc Tế (Vietnamese International Film Festival – ViFF) cách mỗi năm một lần.  Năm ngoái, phim Dòng Máu Anh Hùng vinh dự chiếm giải Grand Jury Award của Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Á Châu Thái Bình Dương ở Los Angeles và giải Khán Giả Bình Chọn tại ViFF.  Khoảng 700 khán giả đã đến tham dự buổi chiếu ra mắt lần đầu tiên (world

premiere) của Dòng Máu Anh Hùng khi cuốn phim được chiếu tại đêm khai mạc ViFF. Cuốn phim sau đó được phát hành tại Việt Nam và trở thành một trong những phim ăn khách nhất từ trước đến nay.

“Trải qua bốn thập niên, Visual Communications luôn vinh danh những tác phẩm mới của các nghệ sĩ người Mỹ gốc Á Châu Thái Bình Dương,” cô Shinae Yoon, Giám đốc điều hành của Visual Communications, trình bày.  “DVD phim Dòng Máu Anh Hùng được phát hành là một bước tiến quan trọng trong việc giới thiệu những đạo diễn mới và tài năng như Charlie Nguyễn, cũng như trong công việc nuôi dưỡng một thế hệ nghệ sĩ sau này sẽ nâng cao vấn đề bản sắc của người gốc Á.”

Dòng Máu Anh Hùng có sự góp mặt của các tài tử Johnny Trí Nguyễn (The Protector, First Morning, Spiderman), Dustin Nguyễn (21 Jump Street, Finishing the Game) và người mẫu kiêm ca sĩ NgôThanh Vân. Phim mang bối cảnh Việt Nam vào thập niên 1920 khi phong trào chống Pháp dấy lên. Để đàn áp quân khởi nghĩa, người Pháp đã đào tạo một số người Việt Nam thành những toán đặc nhiệm chuyên săn lùng những tổ chức của nghĩa quân.

Dòng Máu Anh Hùng chiếm nhiều cảm tinh của giới điểm phim.  “Tàn nhẫn đến đau đớn… nhưng đau đớn mà quá đã,” (theo Film Threat).  Dòng Máu Anh Hùng là “một thành đạt về tuyệt kỹ võ thuật lồng trong một câu chuyện hấp dẫn về chính trị, quyền lực và bội phản” (trích Tạp chí Pop Journalism).

“Cả hai tổ chức VAALA và Visual Communications rất hứng khởi khi cùng thực hiện các buổi chiếu phim đặc biệt tại Los Angeles và quận Cam để quảng bá cuốn DVD sắp được chính thức phát hành,” cô Lê Đình Y-Sa, Giám đốc điều hành VAALA cho biết. “Trong dịp này, chúng tôi kêu gọi khán giả hãy ‘mua đĩa thiệt, ủng hộ phim Việt’ để chúng ta sẽ còn được xem nhiều phim hay như Dòng Máu Anh Hùng.” “Mua đĩa thiệt, ủng hộ phim Việt” sẽ là “châm ngôn” của Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Việt Nam Quốc Tế nhằm kêu gọi khán giả hỗ trợ các nhà làm phim.

Được thành lập vào năm 1991 bởi một số nghệ sĩ, nhà báo và thân hữu tại quận Cam, Hội Văn Học Nghệ Thuật Việt Mỹ (VAALA) là một tổ chức bất vụ lợi nhằm quảng bá những tác phẩm nghệ thuật do các nghệ sĩ người Việt hoặc gốc Việt thực hiện để góp phần phong phú hóa đời sống tinh thần của cộng đồng.  VAALA đã tổ chức nhiều cuộc triển lãm, ra mắt sách, kịch, trình diễn âm nhạc, hội thảo, Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Việt Nam Quốc Tế (ViFF), Cinema Symposium, Cuộc Thi Vẽ Thiếu Nhi và Thiếu Niên vào dịp Trung Thu, và các lớp âm nhạc và hội họa tại VAALA Studio.  VAALA cũng đã phát triển chương trình smART, nhằm tổ chức những buổi workshop về nghệ thuật cho các tổ chức bất vụ lợi phục vụ giới trẻ tại vùng quận Cam và Los Angeles.

Được thành lập vào năm 1970, Visual Communications là một tổ chức bất vụ lợi của người Mỹ gốc Á chuyên về media arts (nghệ thuật truyền thông) nhằm quảng bá sự thông cảm giữa các nền văn hóa qua sự sáng tạo, trình bày, bảo tồn và yểm trợ những tác phẩm thuộc về nghệ thuật truyền thông.  Visual Communications hiện có một catalog bao gồm hơn 100 phim và video do chính Visual Communications sản xuất; lưu trữ khoảng 500,000 tấm hình vừa lịch sử vừa đương đại của cộng đồng người Mỹ gốc Á.  Visual Communications thực hiện nhiều khóa học và hội thảo về điện ảnh, giáo dục; và tổ chức nhiều cuộc triển lãm, trình chiếu phim, bao gồm Đại Hội Điện Ảnh Á Châu Thái Bình Dương ở Los Angeles hàng năm.

Để biết thêm chi tiết về hai buổi chiếu đặc biệt của phim Dòng Máu Anh Hùng cũng như thông tin về hai tổ chức Visual Communications và VAALA, xin quý vị vào thăm trang nhà http://www.vconline.orghttp://www.vaala.org. 

Quiet on the set!

September 23, 2008

A member of the sound crew works during a scene of Nguyen Quang Dung’s Giai cuu Than Chet.

In Vietnam where the noise of local activity seems never to stop, movie-making can be difficult work.

The constant beeping of horns, public sound systems, and noisy wildlife are just a few of the many obstacles when it comes to shooting a movie scene and capturing the actor’s dialogue.

To avoid such pitfalls, many Vietnamese directors choose to dub their films. But this is less than ideal and can come off sounding inauthentic.

The crew of the film Vu khuc con co (Song of the stork), an epic docudrama set during the Vietnam War, encountered a problem with a public loudspeaker while they were shooting in Hanoi in 2000.

Whenever they were about to shoot a scene, the loudspeaker – which serves as a public news broadcasting system – would begin blaring.

The directors, Jonathan Foo and Nguyen Phan Quang Binh, were at a loss how to stop the noise while the actors were put off by the continual interruptions.

The crew sought permission from the district’s People Committee to turn off the speaker during filming but the nuisance persisted.

One young assistant (now celebrated director Nguyen Quang Dung) came up with a clever idea.

He climbed up a tree, cut off the electric wire to the speaker and reconnected it after they finished shooting.

The crew of Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel), last year’s action-packed martial arts smash hit – directed by overseas director Charlie Nguyen and produced by Chanh Phuong – also experienced a comical situation on set.

During a scene featuring stars Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van in a deserted house, the two actors were supposed to express their passionate love for one another. Waves of laughter erupted on set when the loud snores of a technical assistant were heard echoing through the “deserted” house.

The entire scene had to be re-shot but Dong mau anh hung ultimately went on to win several awards including the grand prize at the 2007 Los Angeles-Asia Pacific Festival and the Silver Lotus prize at the 15th Vietnam National Film Festival.

Another sound problem arose on the set of the romantic comedy Giai cuu Than Chet (Rescue the Grim Reaper), the sequel to the blockbuster film Nu hon Than Chet (The Kiss of Death), directed by Nguyen Quang Dung.

Just when the crew had almost wrapped up filming a scene featuring An An (Minh Hang) and the teenage Grim Reaper (Chi Thien), someone’s cell phone suddenly rang, marring the entire shot.

In another situation, the crew was busy shooting a night scene and was shocked when a motorcyclist darted straight out at them.

The motorcyclist even sped up and began yelling, thinking he was being robbed when a crew member tried to stop him.

In another scene where the actors were supposed to be discussing business, a tourist stepped out from an elevator ruining the entire shot. The tourist then began shouting that the crew was blocking the entrance of the building.

While shooting a scene at the Giang Dien waterfall in southern Dong Nai Province for the critically acclaimed TV series Mui ngo gai (Scent of coriander), cicadas buzzed noisily each time Korean director Kim Hyo Joong called for quiet on the set.

Four assistants were sent in to shake the trees and scare the insects away.

Despite the effort, however, the buzzing noise still made its way into the sound recording.

Reported by Do Tuan

16:59′ 04/09/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Purchasing houses in the US and leasing the houses has become a new way for many Viet Kieu and Vietnamese people to earn their living.

Earning money in the US, spending money in Vietnam

A house on sale in the US

When returning to Vietnam to visit family and relatives, Nguyen Huyen said that house and land prices in the US are now at record lows, which proves to be a golden opportunity for many Vietnamese people to own houses in the US.

Huyen himself has purchased a house worth $320,000, for which he had to pay $100,000 in advance. The remaining sum of $220,000 he will pay over 20 years ($1,100 per month) at the interest rate of 5.8% per annum. The house is located in Seattle in Washington state, covering an area of 80 x 40 feet (12 x 24 m). Now Huyen is leasing the house, getting $1,000-1,500 while he lives in another house in Alaska.

A lot of Viet Kieu have decided to return to the homeland after many years of living in the US. Thien Pham said that before returning to Vietnam to settle down, he sold an apartment in California worth $1mil, and then purchased five houses in Houston for $170-200,000 each. Currently, he is leasing three of the five houses at $1,800 a month, while is offering to sell the other two to get money to buy an apartment in San Jose. He said that the leasing fee is higher there, at $2,500/month. With house leasing, he can pocket a lot of money after paying $2,000-3,000 in land tax for each house.

Thien Pham said that now in Vietnam he and his wife still go to work, but ‘just for joy’, not for earning money.

P.D, a musician, said that nearly all overseas musicians now want to return to settle in Vietnam. They are leading good lives in Vietnam with the money they get from leasing houses in the US. P.D said that he is now living in a leased house in Vietnam; however, the leasing fee is just equal to 1/10 of the money he can earn from leasing houses in the US.

Thien related that a lot of his friends in Vietnam are planning to purchase houses in the US for leasing. A cousin of his has just purchased an apartment with 3 bedrooms in Westminster at $480,000, and an apartment in California at $400,000 with payment by instalments. If the cousin leases the two apartments, he will get $2,800 a month from each.

US people sell, Vietnamese purchase

Tran Huy Phuong, Director of Selection Realty & Mortgage in San Jose, said that it is now easier than previously to fly to the US to visit relatives. Therefore, a lot of Vietnamese people are eyeing houses and land in the US. Previously, only very rich people could make the investments, but now, as land prices have decreased sharply, a lot of Vietnamese businessmen have jumped on the bandwagon.

That explains why Lan Nguyen, 32, is not trying to sell her apartment in the suburbs of Houston city in Texas through advertisements in the US, but asked Huyen to introduce the house to his relatives in Vietnam. In general, after successfully selling a house worth $600-700,000, sellers will have to pay $20,000 to an agent. As a matter of course, a lot of Viet Kieu have become real estate brokers.

Phuong from Selection Realty & Mortgage said that leasing houses proves to be a cushy job; it can bring fat profit much higher than the initial investment. However, he said, sometimes inexperienced investors do not get the money they want, while suffering heavy debts from instalment payments.

(Source: NLD)

By Matt Steinglass
Sep 5, 2008, 3:53 GMT
Ho Chi Minh City – It was not that long ago that Vietnamese Americans hesitated to do business in Vietnam for fear of being ostracized by their stridently anti-Communist community leaders back in the United States.

But if those days are not yet gone, they are on their way out, said Ryan Hoang Nguyen Hubris, a Vietnamese-American businessman in Ho Chi Minh City.

‘I see more Vietnamese Americans here than I do back in Orange County or San Jose [California],’ Hubris said. ‘It has become more socially and politically accepted.’

Hubris is executive vice president of the Vietnamese-American chain Lee’s Sandwiches, which boasts 36 stores in California, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. He spoke while sipping an iced coffee at the company’s first Ho Chi Minh City franchise, launched in early August under the spinoff brand Lee’s Coffee.

As commercial ties have burgeoned in recent years between Vietnam and the United States, the number of Vietnamese Americans living and working in Vietnam has swelled into the thousands. They bring with them a dose of US culture, and they are taking part in Vietnam’s breakneck integration into the global economy.

Some have established shrimp farms or telecommunications and oil companies. Others are going to work for international banks and financial and real-estate firms that value their Vietnamese language skills.

‘There’s an energy here with so many Vietnamese Americans coming to start businesses,’ said Katherine Thinh, 33, a native of Silicon Valley, California, and the chief financial officer of the online music startup Pops.vn.

But many Vietnamese Americans said it was not until they arrived in Vietnam that they realized how American they are.

‘For me, being so immersed in American society and then coming back, the first few months was tough,’ said Hubris, who was 7 when he left the city, then known as Saigon, in 1975. ‘Even though you understand what the Vietnamese are saying, just the practices are very different.’

Some of the culture clashes cited by Vietnamese Americans working in Vietnam are the familiar complaints of First World businessmen in a Third World country: a relaxed attitude toward deadlines, lack of clarity as to when an agreement has been reached or what the next step should be and an incoherent regulatory system that places companies in constant legal jeopardy.

But other tensions are specific to the Vietnamese-American story.

‘Everything runs on connections in Vietnam,’ said Thinh Nguyen, 49, who launched Pyramid Software in Ho Chi Minh City in 2001, 26 years after fleeing Saigon for California. ‘And for obvious reasons, we don’t have any connections.’

Or rather, the connections they do have tend not to endear them to Vietnam’s governing elites.

Almost all Vietnamese Americans immigrated to the United States after the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North in 1975, which led to economic hardship and political repression. Many suffered grueling odysseys as ‘boat people’ and spent years in refugee camps.

They arrived in the United States as ardent anti-Communists, often refusing to accept the legitimacy of the government in Hanoi.

For its part, Hanoi mistrusts Vietnamese Americans’ ties to the former South Vietnamese regime. It monitors US-based political groups that seek multiparty democracy in Vietnam, sometimes arresting their members on visits to Vietnam if they engage in political activity.

‘We got caught between two worlds,’ Nguyen said. ‘We belong to the community in the US that’s still very anti-Communist and then we’re ruled by the government here that’s still not too trusting of the overseas Vietnamese.’

These political disadvantages can make Vietnamese Americans vulnerable. While those with dual citizenship can legally own real estate in Vietnam – unlike other foreigners – some said they have had property they bought seized by the government or by well-connected Vietnamese.

Despite such hurdles, the business opportunities that have opened up since the signing of a Vietnamese-US trade agreement in 2000 are irresistible. The United States is now Vietnam’s number one export customer, taking in more than 12 billion dollars in Vietnamese goods in 2007.

Many Vietnamese Americans said they feel they are bringing a different working culture to the country, one with less hierarchy and greater individual responsibility.

Thinh said where a Vietnamese company might block employee access to the internet to prevent surfing and gaming on company time, Pyramid Software keeps access open but expects employees to motivate themselves.

But the most striking thing Vietnamese Americans bring to Vietnam is a language – not Vietnamese, but the language of American business in the internet age. Most have grown up in the computer, media and retail capitals of Silicon Valley and greater Los Angeles, and you can hear it in their vocabulary.

Hubris peppers his speech with references to vertical integration of the production line, market research, branding and logo integrity.

Pops.vn chief executive Esther Nguyen, a 32-year-old Californian, talks about how long it took for her young Vietnamese employees to understand what she meant by a ‘social networking site,’ highlighting just some of the remaining cultural gaps.

JEFF HEINRICH
The Gazette

On Sept. 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh stood in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi and made a simple declaration to the 100,000 people gathered there. “Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence,” he proclaimed, calling for an end to almost a century of French occupation.

Indochina, as the colony was known, has alternated roles of victor and victim since then. Partitioned in 1954, it was fought over by the Americans until 1975, united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976 and, since the mid-1980s, has slowly opened up again to the West.

It is now part of the World Trade Organization and this year even gained a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

On Tuesday, this feisty nation of 85 million people celebrated its National Day. If you thought you knew Vietnam from U.S.-centric war flicks like Apocalypse Now, Platoon or The Deer Hunter, it’s time to see the country a different way, through the viewfinder of some of its finest filmmakers.

Exemplified by the meticulous work of emigré director Tran Ang Hung, these finely-crafted works of art are typical of the Vietnamese sensibility. They’re the sublimely spiritual products of hearts and minds attuned to the human scale, subtly observed and deeply felt.

The Scent of Green Papaya (France/Vietnam, 1993). Amazingly, Tran’s first feature film was filmed entirely in a studio in Paris, his adopted city. Even so, it faithfully recreates the atmosphere of middle-class family life in 1950s Saigon, as an impressionable servant girl named Mui uncovers her masters’ hidden foibles. Out-of-print in North America, the DVD is available from Britain in an all-region version by Second Sight (try amazon.co.uk).

Cyclo (France/Hong Kong/ Vietnam, 1995). Tran’s second film is a wild departure from the first. It’s a violent, disturbing portrait of the nasty and brutish life of a man who

drives a “cyclo” (a bicycle taxi) in Ho Chi Minh City and who gets himself and his sister messed up with drugs, gangsters and prostitution. Radiohead’s song Creep figures prominently. The New Yorker DVD is a solid transfer.

Three Seasons (U.S./Vietnam, 1999). Billed as the first American film to be set in Vietnam (and scripted mostly in the Vietnamese language) since the last U.S. helicopter beat a retreat in 1975, this multi-storylined melodrama was the debut feature of young director Tony Bui. A street urchin, a cyclo

driver, a prostitute and an ex-GI (Harvey Keitel) find their lives interconnect in the big city. A fine Canadian DVD from Seville Pictures.

The Vertical Ray of the Sun (France/Germany/Vietnam, 2000). Good things come in threes, as Tran’s third feature proves. Alternatively titled At the Height of Summer, it’s the most accessible of the bunch, signaled by the choice of opening music, Lou Reed’s laconic Pale Blue Eyes. Three sisters in Hanoi prepare a banquet honouring their dead mother, and family secrets are revealed. The Columbia Tri-Star disc skimps on extras but looks great.

Buffalo Boy (France/Belgium/ Vietnam, 2004). Another

feature debut, this time from American-educated writer-

director Minh Nguyen-Vo. The film takes place in rural Indochina in the mid-1940s, and centres on a peasant teenager who sets off on a life-and-death search for food for his family’s two starving water buffalo. Fate has him fall in with a gang of knife-wielding herders. The extras-rich DVD is in First Run Features’ Global Lens Collection.

jheinrich@thegazette.canwest.com