Documentary makers make a "Discovery' or two

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Vietnamese filmmakers are discovering new approaches to making documentaries as they collaborate in a project with the Discovery Asia channel.


Under the project that has already begun implementation, five Vietnamese filmmakers are being given US$20,000 each to make a 20-minute documentary.


Experts from the Discovery channel have been working with the filmmakers on all aspects of documentary making, with particular focus on script-writing and complying with copyright laws.


Each script has been revised ten times on average, and even changed completely in some cases, and filmmakers are required to obtain permission when using footage of persons or things belonging to them. The people are asked to sign an acceptance form prepared by Discovery.


The documentary directors said they have also been asked to conduct interviews twice in case there are technical problems with either.


They said that what they have gained most from the project is how to think about the idea that the documentary is based on. This was more important to a documentary than the way the idea is presented.


Director Phan Y Ly said she used to think that making documentaries is just a matter of recording truthfully what was happening.


But Discovery required her to study everything about the subject and find interesting stories about it to bring them together to make a documentary as appealing as a drama, with an opening and a climax, Ly was quoted by local news website Vnexpress as saying Sunday.


The Discovery way is to "remake" reality based on facts, said director Phan Duy Linh, noting that Vietnamese documentaries had the habit of "clinging too much" to facts.


Linh said he has applied what he learnt to his documentary Nhung nguoi chong lai tac duong (People who fight traffic jams), creating a lot of suspense to make the viewers wonder if the characters will reach their goals and how.


The Vietnamese directors were also told of ways to make details look real and not staged to the audience.


Vietnamese filmmakers usually set their camera indoor while filming a person walking in from outside, but Discovery experts pointed out that the audience will realize that the cameraman already knows where the character is going.


Profile documentaries in Vietnam often focus exclusively on one person, but Discovery experts said several characters have to be used in a connected way, while the focus remains on the person being profiled.


Not all directors were impressed with these approaches, though.


Manh Cuong, who is also a journalist, said the Discovery experts first said they wanted to have films about Vietnam made by the Vietnamese, "but they've intervened way too deep."


"There were scenes and content I constructed but they changed them completely. It's hard to make films and everyone has their own point of view. Vietnamese people look at Vietnamese people in a different way than foreigners do," Cuong was quoted by Vnexpress as saying.


He said Discovery experts should only suggest ways and accept documentaries that follow those ways, but not intervene in their content and other aspects.


All the documentaries under the project are being filmed in Hanoi. Once they are completed, they will be aired on the Discovery channel for three years.


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