Vietnamese filmmakers discover success


Travel documentaries have been staple programming in countries around the world for many years.

However, due to limited budgets, not until the turn of 21st century have Vietnamese film producers given more attention to this fascinating form of entertainment.

Deceiving rave reviews from both Vietnamese at home and abroad for its groundbreaking documentary series broadcast on HTV and VTV, the Ho Chi Minh City Television Film Studios (TFS) has become the premier producer of Vietnamese travel documentaries.

In a recent interview with Thanh Nien Daily, TFS head Nguyen Viet Hung disclosed two reasons why viewers have recently caught on to documentaries, which used to be considered too tough, too uninspired for the Vietnamese audience to embrace.

“First of all, the scripts of these documentary series are more realistic, more daring, less stylized. The images we create are real and visceral. We don’t use sophisticated techniques to perfect or beautify the pictures.

“And thanks to the government policy since the turn of 21st century that allows public and private sponsors to invest in the film industry, budgeting has no longer been a problem.”

In 2000, TFS filmmakers and cameramen set off on their first-ever overseas shoot to China, where they spent 21 days capturing the stunning scenery, history and culture of that great country.

Entitled Trung Hoa du ky (Journey to China), the 24-episode documentary series received an enthusiastic reception by Vietnamese viewers.

This unexpected success urged TFS to throw itself into producing a second series – Mekong ky su (Mekong Discovery), which was broadcast on HTV and VTV in 2005.

With a budget of US$300,000, the 70-episode Mekong Discovery documented a perilous journey through the five countries – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia – where the Mekong River bares its influence.

The series was a hit that created a documentary-watching frenzy among Vietnamese viewers at home and abroad.

For the first time ever, a Vietnamese film crew successfully documented almost every stretch of the magnificent Mekong River, including the lives of the inhabitants and the diverse flora and fauna.

Decently, the 71-episode Ky su Amazon (Amazon Discovery) took the TFS crew on a 60-day tramp through five South American countries where the Amazon – the world’s second largest river-flows.

The series not only depicted cultures indigenous to South America but also highlighted the lives of overseas Vietnamese in the region.

Since then, the reputation of made-in-Vietnam travel documentaries has reached two Pacific island nations – New Caledonia and Vanuatu, the governments of which officially invited TFS to start filming this July on their two islands.

Ky su Tan Dao (New Islands Discovery), besides revealing the dazzling beauty and cultures of two South Pacific island nations, also reflects the lives of Vietnamese people living there.

Their ancestors were shipped to the far-off lands to be coal miners and plantation coolies under French colonialism in 1930s.

Those ancestors inter-married with whites and blacks already living there creating a fascinating new people and culture.

At present, this hardy film crew is now experiencing a once-in-a-life-time challenge in documenting the Ganges River.

This massive river, considered sacred by Hindus, begins in Northern India in the Himalayas, and flows southeastward through Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal to form one of the world’s largest deltas.

Trekking through three south Asian countries – India, Bangladesh, and Nepal – it is expected to take the men some 60 days and nights to film 50 episodes.

The series began airing on HTV7 at 9:15 p.m. and on channel HTV9 at 11 p.m. on November 21.

It will air every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening.

Reported by Luu Hong



A documentary film on the battle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 that essentially put an end to 100 years of French colonialism in Vietnam aired on a French TV station Friday night.

France Channel 3 – the second largest French public television network showed the 65-minute-long film “Dien Bien Phu” made by director Patrick Jeudy in 2004, marking the 53rd anniversary of Vietnam’s Dien Bien Phu victory of May 7.

The film introduced a top secret report about the involvement of French military forces in Dien Bien Phu – the battle occurred between March and May 1954, and culminated in a massive French defeat that effectively ended the war.

As a result of blunders in the French decision-making process, the French undertook the creation of an air-supplied base at Dien Bien Phu, deep in the northern hills of Vietnam. Its purpose was to cut off Vietnamese force (Viet Minh) supply lines into the neighboring French colony of Laos, at the same time drawing the Viet Minh into a battle that would be their doom.

Instead, the Viet Minh, under General Vo Nguyen Giap, surrounded and besieged the French, who were ignorant of the Viet Minh’s possession of heavy artillery (including anti-aircraft guns) and their ability to move such weapons to mountain crests overlooking the French encampment.

The film also incorporated unforgettable memories of the French veterans about the battle, in which the French military ambitiously targeted building the most robust group of fortresses throughout the Indochina region.

It ended with the image of the surrender of the French force headed by General De Castries after only 56 days of the Dien Bien Phu Battle.

On Vietnam’s victory at Dien Bien Phu, Wikipedia website said it marked the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier.

Source: VOV – Compiled by Luu Thi Hong

11:35′ 10/10/2006 (GMT+7)

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A scene from “Ha Dong silk dress”.

VietNamNet Bridge – Talking about the Vietnamese movie industry, one may say Vietnam only has films to introduce the beauty of its culture and nature.


Great efforts have been made for Vietnam to have two films compete at the Pusan Film Festival held later this month. However, if they only introduce the “strange” aspects of Vietnamese traditions the two are not likely to be successful.


The Pusan Film Festival will take place in Korea from October 12 to 20. Vietnam has sent two films to compete at the festival including Chuyen cua Pao (Pao’s story) and Ao lua Ha Dong (Ha Dong silk dress).


The two share a common theme, which is to introduce the traditional culture of Vietnam to foriegners. Once again the Vietnamese movie industry has nothing more than films depicting the Vietnamese culture or nature to compete with films from other countries.


One may recall that 20 years ago the Korean movie industry was also in the same situation trying to find ways for their films to escape from just introducing their traditional culture. In 1993 A Korean film Sopyonje (Pansori singer) by the famous director Kwonteak was seen as a great success. If the films were just about the Korean tradition it would have been forgotten right then. However, through the story Kwonteak forecast that the Korean traditional culture would lose influence due to the invasion of western and Japanese culture. A large movement to protect the traditional culture broke out in Korea which proved the influence of the film in Korean society.


Making films about the traditional culture or beautiful nature shows the advantage of featuring culturally and naturally special things. Nevertheless it also indicates weaknesses of a country’s movie industry as it could not “take” audiences deeper inside the society of that nation. This is obviously something we need to make audiences remember Vietnamese films.


One can easily find thousands of excuses to explain the failure of the movie industry in a country. The two most common excuses given by Vietnamese film producers are budget and technology. However, there have been many good examples where movies were seen as successful but were made with limited budgets as well as outdated technology.


Efforts of Vietnamese film makers are acknowledgeable, especially when mentioning their attendance in many international film festivals. However, looking further, the failures they have had in these film festivals are mostly because their ability is not yet good enough.


Nguyen Thuy

14:41′ 04/10/2006 (GMT+7)

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Director Minh Chuyen (second from the left) at the festival.

VietNamNet Bridge – A Vietnamese documentary film, Cha, con va nguoi linh (The father, the son and the soldier), won the award for best film at the 10th International Film Festival in Pyongyang, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


The film tells the story of a war veteran’s family in northern province Thai Binh, with three generations suffering from Agent Orange.


Director of the film, Minh Chuyen, said that the film impressed judges at the festival as well as local audiences. Many people were in tears while watching it.


In a scene, Thoa a girl from Thai Binh, who is also an Agent Orange victim, is taken to America for treatment. Being excited that her health problems were solved, she exclaims, “The American people are very kind!”


As he did not expect that his film would win the prize, Chuyen decided to go back to Vietnam at lunch time on September 22. But he was very happy when informed in the evening on the same day that his film had won the cup for Best Documentary Film.


Also at the festival, a German film won the Best Movie Award for Drama, a Chinese film won the award for Film with Best Music and a Russian film won the prize for Film with Best Costumes.


According to Chuyen the total budget for making the film was only VND30mil (US$1,875).


The film earned Chuyen the Consolation Prize at the Seoul Documentary Film Festival last year.


During his week in Pyongyang, Chuyen was busy making another documentary film, “A Moment in North Korea”, which is scheduled to be broadcast later this month on the state TV channel VTV 3.


(Source: Tien phong)

the film is Khoa Do's second feature.No dummy run: the film is Khoa Do’s second feature.
Photo: Bob Pearce


Garry Maddox
July 26, 2006
THE list of Australian sports films is short. Fresh from winning Young Australian of the Year, director Khoa Do and his comedian brother Anh decided to add to it.

Not only did they want to tell a rugby league story, they wanted to set it where they came from, in the western suburbs of Sydney. And, unashamedly, they wanted to make it a positive film.

Footy Legends premiered last night, before its release next week. It’s a feelgood drama about six battling friends who enter a footie comp to get some respect in their lives.

Among them is Luc, a Vietnamese-Australian played by Anh Do, who is trying to find a job while bringing up his little sister alone.

The film also features Claudia Karvan playing a social worker and Peter Phelps as a coach, as well as cameos from such former rugby league stars as Brett Kenny, Brad Clyde, Cliff Lyons and Matthew Johns.

“It’s kind of an antidote to negative headlines about rugby league, about Sydney’s west, about people from different backgrounds,” said Khoa Do yesterday. “We live in a sports-mad country yet we don’t have many sports films.”

How the 27-year-old came to make Footy Legends is a feelgood story in itself.

Brought up in Yagoona by parents who fled to Australia from Vietnam, Do was an unknown actor and director whose life changed when he went to teach filmmaking to troubled youths in Cabramatta.

One was facing a jail sentence for armed robbery, another was on parole, a third was making daily visits to a methadone clinic. “I thought the best way for me to teach filmmaking was to go out and make a film together,” he said.

Without a script, crew or money at that stage, they collaborated to make The Finished People. It was such a raw account of life on the streets that it was released in cinemas and nominated for two Australian Film Institute awards.

“Guys who had not finished high school were now all AFI award nominees,” said Do. “I still remember walking the red carpet with these guys, next to people like Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett.”

The film’s success led to Do being named Young Australian of the Year last year.

“Lleyton Hewitt or Ian Thorpe – really well-known people – normally receive the award, so you’d never think someone like myself could receive it,” he said. “I spent the entire year travelling around the country and met a lot of young people – a lot of guys who’ve gone through tough times …

“That was one of the best things of the award – having the opportunity to travel round Australia and kind of inspire young kids.”

When it came time to make a film with a real budget – $2.9 million instead of $20,000 for The Finished People – the Do brothers drew on their experience playing junior rugby league for a perpetually hopeless team.

“I hope every kid from Yagoona to Penrith to Kalgoorlie will watch this film and think that all his hopes and his dreams are possible,” Do said.

By Erin Sweeney
Tribune Reporter

June 16, 2006

As a boy, Keir Moreano felt his father didn’t have time for him. As he grew older, he couldn’t relate to his father.

IF YOU GO What: “As the Call, So the Echo” documentary by New York University film graduate and Albuquerquean Keir Moreano, about his and his father’s visit to Vietnam.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Guild Cinema, 3405 Central Ave. N.E.

Keir Moreano had liberal tendencies; his father was a Republican. The younger Moreano viewed the world with optimism; the elder was a cynic.

So the younger Moreano was shocked two years ago when his physician father, Alex Moreano, announced he was headed to Vietnam to volunteer at a hospital.

“My dad is not a save-the-world type of guy,” he said.

His son decided to take off a semester at New York University film school to join his father. He thought a trip to Hue, Vietnam, would offer the perfect opportunity for his senior film project. He also thought he might get closer to his father.

In an operating room in Vietnam, the two men saw each other in a light they never had before.

“All of my previous assumptions about my father began to melt away,” said the younger Moreano, now 23. “Once you watch your father open up another person’s head to remove a brain tumor, you’ll realize you never really knew him in the first place.”

Alex Moreano had a similar reaction when he saw his son creating the feature-length documentary. “As the Call, So the Echo” will be shown Saturday at the Guild Cinema.

“It’s a significant step when a parent sees their child has become a confident, performing individual,” he said. “To actually see what he does is quite amazing. It’s just tremendous.”

Keir Moreano grew up in Seattle and moved with his family to Albuquerque at age 19.

Alex Moreano is a nose-ear-throat doctor now working with Presbyterian Healthcare.

His father “was the kind of dad that came home from work and read the paper,” Keir Moreano said. “I wasn’t intellectual enough for him till I reached my teens.”

Moreano, 50, decided to go to Vietnam because some medical equipment he had donated to a nonprofit health care provider was still held in customs two years later. He decided to join the nonprofit and offer his services along with the equipment.

One patient who gets significant attention in the documentary is a young female rice farmer named Hwa. She had been living in the Vietnamese hospital for months awaiting surgery on a tumor in her neck. Without surgery, she’d die.

“They’re fairly needy in all respects, and their training is fairly sketchy by our standards,” Alex Moreano said. “If I didn’t help these patients, no one would. This was the end of the line for them.”

Keir Moreano was surprised at his father’s compassion.

“No one could help her,” he said. “My father and I both were directly experiencing the life of this person.”

If you want to know what happened to Hwa, you’ll have to watch the documentary Saturday.

“(Presbyterian) thinks it’s a great story about health care around the world,” said Todd Sandman, public relations director for Presbyterian Healthcare. “We can see how fortunate we are here in New Mexico and in America to have the best kind of health care available.”

Keir Moreano lives in New York City, where he is developing a career in film and producing. He is flying to Albuquerque to attend the premiere of his documentary.

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 06/23/06

FILM PRESENTED: The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation will host a presentation of the 22-minute film “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” about a Gold Star mother’s search for her son, who has been missing in action in Vietnam for 30 years. The film will be introduced and discussed by its director, Paul Schneeberger of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.WHEN and WHERE: At 11 a.m. Sunday, July 9, at the Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel, which is adjacent to the PNC Bank Arts Center off Exit 116 of the Garden State Parkway.

WHO WILL BE THERE: Members of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., which is holding its annual convention in Mount Laurel from July 7 to July 11, will be special guests at the event.

WHAT IS A GOLD STAR MOTHER? Since the early days of World War I, a Blue Star displayed outside a family’s home indicates they have a loved one serving with the U.S. military in a combat zone. If that family member is killed, the Blue Star is replaced with a Gold Star, to honor that person and his or her family for their supreme sacrifice.

In 1928, American Gold Star Mothers Inc. was established not only to provide comfort to mothers who had lost sons or daughters in warfare, but also to aid the men and women who served or were severely wounded during hostilities.

SERVICE: Following the film program, the American Gold Star Mothers Association will hold a special service at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, featuring as guest speaker, Ambassador Feisal Amin Al-Istrabadi, a representative of Iraq to the United Nations.

IF YOU GO: Lecture attendees are asked to RSVP to (732) 335-0033. A donation of $5 per person is suggested.

Staff report

Staff Writer


“Big” Kenny Alphin, left, and his Big & Rich partner, John Rich, perform “8th of November” at the Academy of Country Music awards show last month. Active-duty soldiers saluted in the background as veterans of several wars walked onto stage during the performance. (MARK J. TERRILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)




Country duo Big & Rich isn’t really known for being tenuous.

So when the two started talking about a video for their Vietnam veteran song “8th of November,” no one was surprised when “Big” Kenny Alphin and John Rich wanted to make it in Vietnam.


Their record label and others in the duo’s camp thought it would be too risky and too expensive to send a full crew to Vietnam to tell the story of the song, career soldier Niles Harris’ tale of his platoon being ambushed by Vietcong Nov. 8, 1965.

But Alphin and Rich couldn’t shake the idea of taking Harris — a buddy they met in 2002 in South Dakota — back to Vietnam to the place where Harris and his comrades were outnumbered 30-1.

So they did. And they brought former TV host and Christian singer Gary Chapman and a couple of others along to take video of the trip.

The resulting documentary, “The 8th of November: A True Story of Pain & Honor,” will be shown for the first time on television at 8 p.m. Saturday on cable channel GAC (Great American Country). The film made its public debut with viewings at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum earlier this month during the CMA Music Festival.

The movie is part Harris’ story of returning to the battlefield, part documentary of the battle itself and part Big & Rich promotional piece.

In the film, Harris brings along the boots he wore Nov. 8, 1965, and he buries them with a quick toast and a quick remembrance of fallen comrades in the jungle where he lost so many.

Chapman also found and interviewed the Vietcong commander responsible for the attack and the Vietcong spy who led soldiers to the unsuspecting Americans.

Harris chose not to attend those interviews.

“He wanted to go honor his fallen comrades,” Chapman said. “He didn’t want to go create an act of international reconciliation. He did not choose to meet the commander who ambushed him.”

The film isn’t all heavy. Big & Rich go shopping, drinking, singing and goofing around in various parts of the documentary. In one of the odder moments, the former Vietcong spy puts on a Big & Rich T-shirt and grins for the camera. •