April 7, 2007
By LiMin Lam
APA reflects on Journey from the Fall — this time from the perspective of its premiere in Orange County, where the Vietnamese American community helped give the film the weekend’s biggest per-screen average at the North American box office.
I grew up hearing stories that came from another world — a world that belonged to my parents and the memories they had of their once-home in Saigon, Vietnam. For my father, these memories were some of the few things he had left from his past — pirates had pillaged the boat that he and his brother were escaping on en route to Malaysia. Pirates, swindlers, and boats that were cast off into the night. The stories that I would hear when my parents were in a mode to reminisce sounded like chapters in fairy tale books that I used to read. Except these stories were profoundly real: my parents recalled how they and their families were forced to flee from a war-torn country.
When I learned of Ham Tran’s latest film, Journey from the Fall, I knew immediately that I had to bring my mother to see it. For myself, I wanted to match pictures to scenes that I could only previously imagine. For my mother, I wanted to let her know that she lived a history that now would be captured on film for others to understand.
Throughout his movie, Tran vividly depicted three aspects of the war and its aftermath: the escape of the boat people, the savage re-education camps that enslaved defiant anti-communists, and the final arrival of Vietnamese immigrants to a free but foreign America. Because my parents were able to leave Vietnam prior to America’s detachment to the war, they circumvented the horrors of the re-education camps and the complete takeover of Southern Vietnam by the Northern communists. Despite that, I still associated many of the same scenes to what my parents had previously told me. “Ma, was that the size of your boat?” I whispered to my mom midway through the story. “No, ours was a little bigger,” my mother replied — but in the back of my mind, I remembered her telling me about the long, tolling journey and how a few bags of dried noodles had to be rationed to feed several mouths.
Actress Kieu Chinh, who plays the role of a resilient grandmother in Journey to the Fall, spoke to me before the premiere of the film. Chinh recalled how she had to become a refugee twice in her life. Once in 1954 when she left her home in Northern Vietnam to find refuge in Southern Vietnam, and after that, to journey half way around the world in 1975 to find sanction in America. Certainly, this personal experience was reflected in Chinh’s spectacular performance in Journey to the Fall. Her character’s staunch refusal to let war dissolve her family exposes emotions that are raw and fundamental, emotions that can be understood in all languages and by all cultures. Such is the story of the boat people, a story to which Chinh says with firmness, “Yes, it is my story.” But it should also be a story that most Americans sympathize with, as Chinh remarked, “Most of us are refugees coming, America is the melting pot.”
As this pot melts, however, each generation becomes more and more removed from the endeavors and realities of their immigrant parents and/or grandparents. With this distancing, there leaves a void in understanding how there came to be a Vietnamese American community. Determined not to let the story of the boat people fade with each new generation of immigrants to America, Tran insisted that his movie be told from the viewpoint of the boat people themselves. Finding talent from within the Vietnamese community, most of the actors in Tran’s cast were people who had lived and breathed the struggles that came with the Vietnam War. Paying close attention to these details, Tran’s intentions are two-fold: for younger members of the Vietnamese community, he says, he hopes to foster new dialogue between generations, and allow parents who had previously kept silent about their past to use the film as an occasion to discuss their history with their children; for those not in the Vietnamese community, Tran wants them “to finally get how come there are Vietnamese people [living in America]” — that for many in the community, they came “by circumstance, not by choice.”
But the history of the boat people does not end with their arrival to America. In the wake of each new generation of Vietnamese Americans, there continues to be stories untold, and to this, Tran eagerly hints that we wait for his next film. As to the successful production of Journey to the Fall, Westminster Mayor Marie L. Rice says that she is “very proud, very honored” to host the premiere of Tran’s film in her city. With Westminster being home to one of America’s largest Vietnamese American populations, Rice says, “Our Vietnamese community has brought so much talent, and has given so much to our city.” And indeed, Tran’s film has done all of this in its very own genuine, heartfelt fashion.
Read APA’s interview with Ham Tran here.
Selected submissions to be featured in the “Journey from the Fall” DVD
Kieu Chinh in “Journey from the Fall”
Inspired by the highly anticipated film about the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, “Journey from the Fall,” ImaginAsian Pictures announces “My Journey, My Story,” which gives Vietnamese Americans, Vietnam veterans, and those interested in the Vietnamese American experience, the opportunity to share the real-life stories of their journey from Vietnam to the US and be featured in the “Journey from the Fall” DVD.
Beginning March 1 and running through April 30, 2007, entrants can submit videos (up to five minutes in length) in DVD, Mini DV, DV Cam, DVC Pro, Beta SP, or Digi Beta of themselves, their friends, or family members narrating a personal story of leaving Vietnam and coming to America. Selected submissions will be featured in the Special Features section of the “Journey from the Fall” DVD providing entrants the opportunity to share their experiences with audiences across the country. Entrants of selected submissions will also receive free copies of the DVD.
For more information, additional details, as well as the full submission rules, please visit www.JourneyFromTheFall.com/MyJourney.
Long Nguyen in “Journey from the Fall”
Opening in New York City, Westminster, and San Jose on March 23, 2007 and nationwide on March 30, 2007, “Journey from the Fall” is directed by Ham Tran and is inspired by the true stories of Vietnamese refugees who fled their land after the fall of Saigon, and the struggles of those who stayed behind and suffered the brutalities of the re-education camps. The critically acclaimed film was an official selection of both the Sundance and the Pusan Film Festivals, and has won more than 10 awards at 20 festivals around the world.
The film stars Kieu Chinh, Long Nguyen, Diem Lien, Nguyen Thai Nguyen, and Jayvee Mai The Hiep.
“Journey from the Fall” (www.JourneyFromTheFall.com) will be released by ImaginAsian Pictures, a division of ImaginAsian Entertainment, Inc.
About ImaginAsian Pictures
ImaginAsian Pictures (www.iapictures.tv) is ImaginAsian Entertainment’s feature film distribution division dedicated to cutting-edge and critically acclaimed Asian films. It aims to establish a slate of diverse releases, bringing the best of Asian cinema to American screens.
About ImaginAsian Entertainment
ImaginAsian Entertainment, Inc. (www.iaei.tv) is a multimedia company that promotes Asian Pacific American culture to mainstream America. Headquartered in New York City, ImaginAsian Entertainment uses a fully integrated marketing strategy through multiple platforms: ImaginAsian TV (America’s First 24/7 Asian American Network), The ImaginAsian Theater (New York’s Premier Asian American Theater), ImaginAsian Pictures (distribution of cutting-edge and critically acclaimed Asian films), ImaginAsian Home Entertainment (video/DVD unit dedicated to quality Asian home entertainment), ImaginAsian Radio (the sound of Asian America), and iaLink (ImaginAsian’s community-based e-zine).
March 28, 2007
Howard Ho, Special to The Times
WRITER-director Ham Tran likes to whisper. He often does it as he directs his actors, looking them in the eyes.
“Their eyes will tell you if they’re in the moment or not,” Tran said, adding that entering the difficult moments he wanted to create is “not about tears. It’s about drifting into a place of memory.” Such drifting was an important process for Tran’s first feature, “Journey From the Fall,” which opened Friday in limited release in New York, San Jose, Westminster and Garden Grove. The film follows the Vietnamese refugee experience after the 1975 fall of Saigon, tracing the story of a family that must flee to America by boat when a father is detained in a “reeducation” camp. Around the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, Tran became obsessed with little-known stories of the estimated 2 million boat people who fled the Communists. He would eventually interview more than 400 people, including refugees and survivors of the reeducation camps, which were essentially prisons.
With Thailand substituting for Vietnam (the government still disavows the camps and wouldn’t permit filming), Tran cast many of his interviewees, asking them to relive their memories, which he regards as the smartest decision he made. Though they weren’t actors, with the help of Tran’s whisperings they provided a palpable realism to the film.
For instance, Tran elicited a tearful performance from one survivor who’d lost contact with his daughter. “I said, ‘For the next five minutes I want you to look at this photograph. Picture your missing daughter. What would you say to her?’ ” Tran said. “And naturally from there he went straight into the dialogue.”
“For those people, they don’t have to act,” said Kieu Chinh (“The Joy Luck Club”), one of few professional actors on set. “They cry real tears, not make-up tears.”
In another scene, Tran took his cast to the middle of the ocean to catch a rainstorm (rain machines were not included in the film’s $1.6-million budget). When Tran ordered actors to hide from the rain, one survivor in the cast corrected him.
“[This woman said], ‘When the storm came, we jumped out of the hull. We grabbed all the bowls we could find. We soaked it up into our clothes and wrung out our clothes later to drink the water, because we were that thirsty,’ ” Tran said.
He depicts a reeducation camp experience of hard labor, isolation and corporeal punishment, the details of which remain somewhat obscured even in the Vietnamese American community. Although more than three decades have passed, many who lived through the fall of South Vietnam and the subsequent relocations and “reeducations” still have a hard time talking about it, Tran found. The shame of suffering and losing their country is often bottled up in favor of American optimism. But after sold-out screenings of the film’s rough-cut in 2005 and its Sundance premiere in 2006, Tran sees more dialogue between generations.
“It’s a catalyst to open up the discussion,” he said, “because if no one ever speaks the first words, they would never be said.”
It’s his story too
TRAN left Vietnam in 1982, when he was 8, and while he was not a boat person, he ended up in a refugee camp. His family settled in Santa Ana, and he captures its experience in “Journey.” Being ethnic Chinese, Tran grew up “whitewashed,” as his American and Chinese cultures left little room for Vietnamese roots. But in his last year of college, he reconnected after seeing a Vietnamese American theater troupe’s show about growing up as a refugee.
He joined the troupe, Club O’Noodles, as an actor, writer and director. Then went to UCLA film school, where his Vietnamese-themed short film “The Anniversary” was shortlisted for a 2004 Oscar. While filming “Anniversary” on location in Vietnam, Tran kept his eye on a feature film, retaining key crew members, including composer Christopher Wong and cinematographer Guillermo Rosas (“Before Night Falls”).
Tran stays busy in the community, producing and editing films for fellow Vietnamese American filmmakers such as Charlie Nguyen, who’s making an action film called “The Rebel.” Tran’s next script is a World War II drama about the 442nd Regiment, which was solely comprised of Japanese Americans.
Tran hopes “Journey” will lay the groundwork for a new theatrical niche. The release is the first for the Asian American-run Imaginasian, which will roll out the film in 10 North American cities. With grass-roots marketing efforts in Orange County’s Little Saigon, where Tran was recently editing the film’s trailer at a local Vietnamese TV station, Tran sees his project as bigger than his film.
“The whole release is about building a new audience altogether,” Tran said. “It’s about finding the right product to galvanize the community. The last time you had something like that was ‘Better Luck Tomorrow.’ [Only] then you can have ‘Harold & Kumar.’ “
Article Launched: 03/24/2007 01:42:21 AM PDT
Click photo to enlarge
Thao Le, (at front, not related to the person behind her) of Alameda, who left… ( thu hoang ly document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } Can a movie break the dam of reserve that holds back years of unspeakable sorrows? Can it lead to understanding between an iPod generation and their refugee elders? It may be ambitious, but “Journey from the Fall,” an epic movie that opened Friday in San Jose, Orange County and New York, will provide the opening for thousands of Vietnamese-American families to start the difficult dialogue about what they personally experienced after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
“I’ve seen it four times, and every time I cry,” said Bao Thien Ngo, a 25-year-old De Anza College student, for whom the war’s aftermath is ancient history.
Ngo, with friend Minh Nguyen, helped spearhead the sell-out of 287 seats in Friday’s 6:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. downtown shows among young people. Tonight was already half-sold out, and with this weekend’s San Jose screenings of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, Camera 12 predicted spillover crowds.
The debut film, by 31-year-old Ham Tran, traces a fictional family’s experience after American soldiers pulled out of Vietnam. The story – which includes scenes in a re-education camp and a frightening sea passage – might as well be the Vietnamese boat people’s tale of Everyman.
“I keep thinking in the back of my mind that this was the story of my parents and my grandparents,” said Ngo.
More than $7,000 in advance group sales prompted Camera Cinemas to acquire a second print. Ngo, who is
avice president for the United Vietnamese Student Association of Northern California, was astonished that one of his high school groups bought 130 tickets so they could bring their parents. Ngo brought his grandparents to the Camera on Friday night and his mother is going tonight. Friday afternoon, Tam Phan, 53, drove up from Monterey with her sister and nephew’s family to see the film they’d been hearing so much about. Her daughter in Los Angeles was going to see it today and she hoped her son at the University of California-San Diego makes it to San Jose.
Dylan Marchetti, in charge of acquisitions for distributor ImaginAsian, saw “Journey” at the Cannes Film Festival. He said he was attracted to the small-budget film with the acting and production values of a Hollywood epic.
Tran and ImaginAsian say “Journey” is the first film about the boat people’s experience, the first film to depict the re-education camps, but that’s half true.
There have been other films about boat people – Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s “The Boat People” in 1983 and Hans Petter Moland’s “Beautiful Country” in 2004. But “Journey” is the first film to be told from the Vietnamese point of view – by Vietnamese, about Vietnamese – with authenticity and sensibility that Vietnamese viewers will recognize.
Tran, a UCLA film school graduate, listened to his grandfather’s tales of the grim conditions aboard a refugee tanker, knees crammed to chest, hardly anything to sing about – as happened in “Beautiful Country.” Tran wasn’t interested in casting recognizable Chinese-American actresses like Lucy Liu nor American characters such as Nick Nolte.
Tran, who came to the United States at age 8, made sure of that. When being an Oscar runner-up in 2004 for his short, “The Anniversary,” opened doors in Hollywood, he eschewed any investment that would make him give up control of the film. Indeed, many of the cast were not actors but had been in re-education camps or had fled on boats via the pirate-plagued seas. Tran encouraged actors to speak out if a scene did not ring true.
The film got good buzz at film festivals. ImaginAsian used “social networking” among college student associations, Vietnamese Catholic and Vietnamese veterans groups, and passed out fliers at Tet festivals. The power of a collective Vietnamese emotional experience captured the attention of young Vietnamese-Americans.
“Once you get to the second generation, we know nothing,” Ngo said. “I knew nothing about the Vietnam War or the boat people experience – even though I had family members I could ask.” His conversations with his father were less about the past than “How are you doing in school?”
For Tran, the powerful emotions underneath the surface are very present in his parents’ generation – but had been stifled.
“They raised us through silence,” Tran said about his parents’ generation. They had gone through horrendous things – rapes, torture, degradation – by the time they reached the United States, Australia, France, and even then, the fate of other family members was unknown. Yet they were faced with surviving right away.
There’s a phrase in Vietnamese – “bao qua” – you put it away in order to go on.
Yet knowing those experiences are a missing link. Mental health problems from postwar experiences, gang problems from the generation gap between parents and children, are all related to understanding the present, Ngo said.
“Aside from the fact that it’s a compelling, beautiful film, the most important reason for me to urge others to see it is because it can be a stepping stone to address contemporary issues. If you learn this, then you can understand why your parents are this way. If you learn that, someday you can find a way to address many things.”
Tran thinks it can do more. He hopes it can cross over.
Americans had to deal with the war experience through film – “Coming Home,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Hamburger Hill” and others, Tran said. “Now there are Vietnamese-Americans and we have to heal as well.”
The acknowledgment through communally experiencing a film could lead to healing the wound. “As a community we need to reconcile. Then we can put it behind us.”
All Americans could learn a little of that history past April 30, 1975.
From that common understanding, we can all go forward.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED
See http://www.cameracinemas.com and journeyfromthefall.com.
“Journey From the Fall,” about Vietnamese boat people, scuttles competition with highest per-screen average
March 28, 2007
“Journey From the Fall,” a modestly-budgeted independent film from a new production company hoping to attract Asian-American audiences, scored a remarkable opening-weekend victory, grossing a higher per-screen average at the box office than any movie in the country last week. That includes last weekend’s box office champ, “TMNT,” which made an estimated $25.45 million overall, but lagged behind the $21,861 per screen that “Journey From the Fall” averaged. By comparison, “Shooter” had the third-highest overall take, but averaged just $5,168 per screen. The new Adam Sandler drama “Reign Over Me” averaged just $4,788 per screen.
“Journey” played to mostly sold-out screenings in San Jose–where director Ham Tran appeared for a question-and-answer session following one of Saturday’s showings–as well as New York City and Westminster. All three cities have large Vietnamese-American communities, where grass roots marketing campaigns, strong word of mouth and positive reviews all contributed to strong showings at the box office. San Jose’s Camera 12 Cinemas had to hurriedly order a second print of the film from ImaginAsian Pictures, the first-time distributor, to handle its overflow crowds. The film grossed $87,442.
“This is a defining moment for Asian-American cinema and is a testament to the talent, determination and vision of the filmmakers and producers involved,” said Michael Hong, the CEO of ImaginAsian Pictures.
The film will expand to more theaters nationwide beginning March 30, and will begin appearing on screens in other Bay Area cities April 20. It is inspired by the true stories of Vietnamese refugees who fled their country after the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, and it is one of the first films ever to examine the struggles of those who stayed behind and endured the brutalities of the re-education camps set up by the new government.
One Response to ““Journey From the Fall,” about Vietnamese boat people, scuttles competition with highest per-screen average”
March 28, 2007
Article Launched: 03/26/2007 07:09:31 PM PDT
Journey From the Fall,” a modestly budgeted independent film from a new production company hoping to attract Asian-American audiences, scored a remarkable opening-weekend victory. It grossed a higher per-screen average at the box office than any movie in the country last week.
That includes last weekend’s box office champ, “TMNT,” which made an estimated $25.45 million overall, but lagged behind the $21,861 per screen that “Journey From the Fall” averaged.
“Journey” played to mostly sold-out screenings in San Jose, Westminster, as well as New York City. All three cities have large Vietnamese-American communities.
San Jose’s Camera 12 Cinemas had to hurriedly order a second print of the film from ImaginAsian Pictures, the first-time distributor, to handle its overflow crowds. The film grossed $87,442.
The film is inspired by the true stories of Vietnamese refugees who fled their country after the fall of Saigon, and it is one of the first films to examine the struggles of those who stayed behind and endured the brutalities of the re-education camps set up by the new government.
The film expands to more theaters nationwide Friday.
– Bruce Newman
Ninja series, 6 others win YouTube prize
YouTube highlighted its star-making ability today by unveiling its first batch of YouTube Video Award winners, several of which have become virtual household names over the past year.
Power pop band OK Go and the video series
Ask a Ninja” were among the seven winners in the video-sharing site’s inaugural awards. YouTube last week selected 10 nominees in seven categories, the winners of which were decided by user votes. It was a quick, hasty process begun and concluded in just a week – a far cry from the many months of, say, Oscar campaigning.
OK Go, perhaps the most professional of the mostly amateur nominees, won most creative video for its “Here It Goes Again” music video. “Ask a Ninja,” the comedy created by Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, won for best series.
“Ask a Ninja” triumphed over what may be YouTube’s biggest celebrity, Lonelygirl15. That bedroom production finished fourth, behind “Ask A Gay Man” and “Chad Vader.”
Terra Naomi won for best music video for her song “Say It’s Possible,” a one-shot clip of her playing acoustic guitar and singing. Naomi has parlayed her online success into a record deal with Island Records and will release her debut album this summer.
Similar to how an actor might thank the Academy for an Oscar, Naomi paid her respects to the YouTube community.
Best commentary was one of the most hotly contested categories, as it pitted several of YouTube’s most high-profile personalities against one another. A “vlogger” known as “The Wine Kone” won over Peter Oakley (“Geriatric1927”) and Paul Robinett (“Renetto”).
A video calling for a “Free Hugs Campaign” won for most inspirational video. Australian Juan Mann’s video set off an online wildfire of similar “Free Hugs” campaigns.
Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, also known as Smosh, won for best comedy video. Dony Permedi’s animated video “Kiwi!” – which began as a master’s thesis on animation – won for most adorable video.
The winners and nominees are compiled in a gallery at http://www.youtube.com/YTAwards. YouTube says it will later unveil what a YouTube Video Award will look like.
March 23, 2007
Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and melodrama is almost impossible. The writer-director Ham Tran achieves the impossible in “Journey From the Fall,” a sprawling tearjerker about a war-splintered South Vietnamese family trying to survive the aftermath of the American withdrawal and then seek a new life in the United States.
Set amid the chaos of late-’70s Vietnam, when the victorious North set about “re-educating” the defeated South, the film depicts one family’s endurance in sturdy, old-movie style, with sweeping camerawork, a monumental and occasionally intrusive orchestral score, gorgeous yet forbidding natural vistas and enough shocking tragedies, brazen escapes and crowd-pleasing acts of defiance to fuel several action-adventure pictures.
Its first half cuts between the plight of a former South Vietnamese Army officer, Long Nguyen (Long Nguyen), a die-hard partisan who endures imprisonment and torture in a re-education camp, and that of his mother (Kieu Chinh), wife (Diem Lien) and son (Nguyen Thai Nguyen), who are trying to flee the country via slums, jungles and swamps.
The relatives’ story line climaxes with a boat journey that shows refugees packed into a cargo hold like cordwood, enduring illness, claustrophobia and starvation. Its visceral portrait of suffering and perseverance matches the Middle Passage sequence in “Amistad.” Its horror resonates through the family’s eventual relocation to California, where they are confronted with diluted versions of the same problems they faced in Vietnam: deprivation, discrimination and a hostile dominant culture that pushes them to assimilate.
While Mr. Tran’s narrative is outlined in broad strokes, it is filled in with delicate brushwork. The script, which draws on survivor stories and the director’s own experiences as the child of boat people, compiles details that most Americans have never seen on screen: a newly arrived Vietnamese-American woman repudiating her ethnic identity, the better to forget past traumas; a knowingly absurd debate among prison camp inmates about the tastiest way to cook crickets.
The film echoes Michael Cimino‘s “Deer Hunter,” which followed American steel mill workers to Vietnam and back. At certain points (particularly the prison camp sequences, the film’s many improbable reunions and the recurring device of characters bonding over a pop song), “Journey From the Fall” seems to answer Mr. Cimino’s movie across the decades — not to rebuke it, but to remind the world that the extras Robert De Niro passed in the Saigon streets while searching for Christopher Walken lived, loved and suffered too, and that their stories deserve to be told.
“Journey From the Fall” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes intense physical and psychological violence.
JOURNEY FROM THE FALL
Opens today in New York and in Orange County and San Jose, Calif.
Written (in Vietnamese and English, with English subtitles) and directed by Ham Tran; directors of photography, Guillermo Rosas and Julie Kirkwood; music by Christopher Wong; production designers, Mona Nahm and Tommy Twoson; produced by Lam Nguyen; released by ImaginAsian Pictures. In Manhattan at the ImaginAsian Theater, 239 East 59th Street. Running time: 135 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Kieu Chinh (Ba Noi), Long Nguyen (Long Nguyen), Diem Lien (Mai Nguyen), Nguyen Thai Nguyen (Lai Nguyen), Jayvee Mai The Hiep (Thanh), Khanh Doan (Captain Nam) and Cat Ly (Phuong).