YIDFF 2011 New Asian Currents
Hard Rails across a Gentle River
Q&A after the Screening   Tran Thanh Hien (Director), Nguyen Trinh Thi (Producer)

Independent Documentary Reflects Hanoi Realities

Nguyen Trinh Thi (NTT): Allow me to introduce this film and our newly established production organization. This film was produced mainly by DocLab, a documentary production center I established in Hanoi two years ago. In the film industry of socialist Vietnam, where the state and government are in control, it is only since the past five years that filmmaking independent from the official channels has been allowed. Foreign institutions are starting to support such independent filmmaking in Vietnam, and we have been able to hold filmmaking workshops with their assistance. At first, we tried organizing training workshops for people who work for government film institutions and television stations, but it didn’t work out. Once the training program is over, these people just go back to their workplaces and work within the conventional system. So for this workshop, we gathered people with no background or experience in established filmmaking, in order to ensure that they would remain in independent filmmaking for longer periods of time. The four directors of this film are participants in this workshop and this was their second project.

Q: As director, did you experience any differences or “distance” on a mental level, with the people you filmed? I mean this not in a material sense, nor in terms of living conditions.

Tran Thanh Hien (TTH): In the research phase before we actually filmed, we spent a lot of time with our protagonists and nurtured a kind of friendship with them. Therefore we were able to film them without feeling a strong sense of distance. Vietnam today is a vibrant surging economy and the disparity between the rich and the poor is growing. But until just a few years ago, we all lived equally austere lives under the socialist system. You could say that our lives are slightly more affluent than our protagonists today, but in fact we are all from the same class. In that sense, you could say that the differences I felt with them were minimal.

Q: Were the directors instructed on what to film? Or were they free to shoot what they liked, and the footage edited for a unified look?

NTT: The overall concept of the project was the bridge, but it was up to the directors to decide what and who to shoot. The films were filmed in areas close to each other and had some associations with each other. That’s why we were able to combine them together into one film.

Q: How are independent films screened in Vietnam?

NTT: Public screening is a big problem. Not only is it difficult to get permission for public screening, but we’d also have to deal with censorship. Therefore we at DocLab don’t file for permission and don’t show the films in public cinemas. As we receive funding from the Goethe Institute, we are able to show the films in their facilities. The government does not require authorization for screenings inside such foreign institutions. We also hold private screenings for small audiences in galleries and cafes, and sell DVDs on a personal level.

(Compiled by Hata Ayumi)

Interpreter: Arai Yuka / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kosukegawa Tomoki / Video: Miura Toshiki / 2011-10-10