Docu-drama

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After a year of production, four of the five winners of Discovery Channel's First Time Filmmakers Vietnam Contest have completed their projects and are eagerly awaiting their television premiere.

Five local filmmakers submitted proposals for documentary film projects more than two years ago.

In August 2009, they were each awarded a US$20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to create 30- minute film documentaries capturing the impact of the capital's shifting urban landscape on the lives of its citizens.

The filming was expected to take only three or four months, but a financial dispute had allegedly delayed the debut until now.

Lost in the shuffle

The problematic project was supervised by Redbridge, a Hanoi TV and film production services company. The local firm was hired to act as an intermediary between the contest sponsors and the filmmakers, according to news accounts from last April.

One of the teams has claimed last April that Redbridge wanted to charge them up to $2,000 to secure permission from the Vietnam Cinema Department. The four other directors also claim that Redbridge refused to reimburse their film crews for legitimate expenditures as production dragged on.

Ha Thuc Van, director of Redbridge denied allegations that the financial dispute had delayed the debut. She declined to comment on the charges leveled against her company, saying things would be clarified at a press briefing at the films' trailer premiere on April 28.

"The film production has been on schedule. The airing of the documentaries depends not just on the organizers and filmmakers but also on Discovery channel," Van said. "It will be a proud moment when local filmmakers' works will be aired on Discovery. The final result will reflect the efforts of all people involved."

Duy Linh, one of the film directors, said that after Thanh Nien ran its article last April, in which a number of individuals leveled charges against Redbridge, the relationship between the intermediary and filmmakers seemed to improve.

The four filmmakers are looking forward to presenting their unique perspectives on Vietnam's changing capital, with the exception of director Phan Y Ly, whose project was never taken up again.

Ly, 30, came to the contest with an impressive resume.

She earned a Masters of Theater and Media for Development degree in the UK and currently owns and operates Life Art, a Vietnamese social enterprise committed to research, training and workshops in the field of culture and art.

As a documentarian, Ly drew praise from local media for her 2004 documentary about Kenya's Kibera the largest slum in Africa.

In 2007, she launched a project entitled "My life my view" in which she trained a group of children in a migrant village on the central island of the Red River to collect documentary footage of their daily lives.

Despite repeated attempts, Ly was not available to comment as of press time.

Linh, one of the other four filmmakers, said, "Maybe Ly decided she could not compromise with the supervisor. I am not shocked but sad about what happened between us and the intermediate supervisor. In the end, I'm relieved that everything is over and done with."

Specific stories

Michael Digregorio, a former representative at the Ford Foundation's defunct Hanoi office (it closed in September 2009) said the idea for the film project struck him three years ago.

Digregorio, who had lived in the capital for more than 12 years, said international cinema lacked a Vietnamese perspective. Most of the films that deal with Vietnam in foreign markets, he noted, are produced by foreigners.

"It is the local filmmakers who understand their country best," he said.

The four completed projects include: Manh Ha's Thanh pho 1,000 nam (A thousand-year-old city), Dao Thanh Tung's Song va chet trong thanh pho (Life and death in the city), Manh Cuong's Ong Long chieu phim dao (The man dreaming of an Oscar statue) and Duy Linh's Nhung chien binh chong tac duong (The traffic jam fighter).

The Vietnamese documentaries will be premiered on the global channel in May, and the official schedule will be announced at a press conference on April 28.

In "A thousand-year-old city," director Manh Ha examines Hanoi's rapid transformation through the lens of three characters: an old woman who is being evicted from her home of 50 years, a modern performance artist and an architect devoted to developing green projects for the city.

Manh Cuong's "The man dreaming of an Oscar statue" profiles Nguyen Van Long, a movie lover, who ran a unique cinema in a public park for 30 years. The documentary depicts Long, cranking film reels by hand, and narrating them in his own voice.

Director Duy Linh was inspired by Hanoi's 1,000 year anniversary to explore how locals manage to deftly navigate the capital city's cluttered web of modern roadways and ancient lanes.

Dao Thanh Tung's film "Life and death in the city" is about a small cottage industry that cropped up when the city was determined to close a local cemetery. Tung looks at the business of exhuming buried relatives and how it deals uniquely with Vietnamese mores regarding death and the afterlife.

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