Hard Rails across a Gentle River
VIETNAM / 2010 / Vietnamese / Color / Blu-ray (SD) / 45 min
Directors, Photography: Tran Thanh Hien, Pham Thu Hang, Do Van Hoang, Tran Thi Anh Phuong
Editors: Nguyen Trinh Thi, Pham Thi Hao, Julie Beziau
Producers: Jamie Maxtone-Graham, Nguyen Trinh Thi
Post-production Sound: Franck Desmoulins
Source: Hanoi DocLab
Women selling vegetables on the streets, men bathing, young boys and girls hanging out, couples . . . In the surroundings by the river that flows underneath the railway bridge in the Long Bien district of Hanoi, we even get a feeling for the relationships among the people who pass one another on the street. Four directors take their cameras to shoot the human stories and, with their filmed encounters woven together like a mosaic, the film paints a portrait of the vibrant lives of the inhabitants of Hanoi.
[Director’s Statement] Just a kilometer away from the high-rise city center, there is a very different kind of life in Long Bien than in the rest of the city. Long Bien residents talk a very different story, one that rumbles, that is disconnected, but that represents and reflects the hard life of marginalized laborers and migrants.
In the summer of 2010, we four filmmakers and four still photographers spent three months working independently in the Long Bien neighborhood of Hanoi. We premiered the resulting film, Hard Rails across a Gentle River, in a large outdoor exhibition within the neighborhood itself as part of “The Long Bien Picture Show,” along with the projected works of the photographers. In Vietnam, all public display of art, film, and photography requires the approval of government censors, and at this original screening, we were forbidden to show one portion of Hard Rails (the entire final chapter, “The Mouth Gets Wet”)—in the very neighborhood where it was shot, to the very people it was about.
We each used an observational approach in which the lens takes in both the unusual and the more ordinary moments, quietly, patiently, and in the most natural way possible, to convey to the audience honest and subtle feelings. All of us in our own ways attempted to understand and sympathize with the residents’ stories. Through this mosaic approach, each of us documenting a separate and special environment within Long Bien—a beach that lies by a river running through a crowded city, a busy intersection where three women work on the sidewalk, a rail bridge running above both the street and the river where people illegally sell food and lovers gather at night—all the stories, thoughts, or feelings shared by the people became materials that helped us understand more about life. The characters are the life of the street.
The four directors are former students and current members of Hanoi DocLab, a center for documentary filmmaking and video art in Hanoi.
Tran Thanh Hien graduated from Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts and was a graphic designer for eight years. He now works full-time as a freelance filmmaker and is a staff member at Hanoi DocLab.
A graduate in culture history from Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Pham Thu Hang worked as a researcher for Vietnam Institute of Culture and Art Studies before joining DocLab. She is currently a freelance filmmaker and a graduate student in film criticism.
Do Van Hoang, a recent Hanoi Academy of Theatre & Cinema graduate in screenwriting, is pursuing projects in independent filmmaking both in documentary and fiction.
Tran Thi Anh Phuong is a graduate student in environmental technology and a freelance filmmaker with a special interest in films on the environment and on development.