Getting real

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First-time director Siu Pham is betting that everyday moviegoers will relate to the authenticity and realism of her new art-house film


Siu Pham said she just pursues her own path, no matter how hard it will be or how great the risk of failure is and she is also not like local young filmmakers who want to gain a foothold in the industry

Siu Pham still remembers the day her father pulled her out of school as a teenager to take her to the movies. She says she's been crazy about cinema ever since.

There's still much of that movie-mad teen left in Pham, whose pink plastic-rimmed glasses, loose outfits accompanied with a shoulder bag betray her age. She looks much younger and dynamic than many others in their 60s. 

She sat down at the coffee shop near her house in a bundle of nerves, having just seeing a rough version of her film and disliking it.

But she got her youthful energy back after a call from her husband, who also worked on the film, assured her that the rough cut was ok.

And then she began her stories while sipping a cup of caramel macchiato. She spoke calmly and told her stories in no particular order, expressing herself with an infectious, youthful emotion.

Dreams are real

Pham, 63, whose real name is Pham Thi Nhung, was born in Hanoi in 1948. She moved to Switzerland when the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and is now living in Ho Chi Minh City.

After working as script-girl and a director's assistant in the 70s and 80s, Pham moved into scriptwriting and documentary filmmaking. But it wasn't until she came back to Vietnam in 2005 that she decided to make a film that was all her own.

Her debut film as a director, Do... hay day? (Here... or There), will represent Vietnam against 12 other films in the "New Currents" at the Busan International Film Festival October 6-14 in South Korea.

The semi-autobiographical film tells the story of a Vietnamese woman and her European husband who decide to retire to a remote Vietnamese fishing village in their 60s. They live in peace until the husband begins thinking about life after death, old age and then disappears.


A poster advertising the film Do... hay day? (Here... or there?)

"Having made many trips to Vietnam and having spent long periods of time there recently, I have been able to gauge the limits of the integration of a white man into a small fishing village as well as that of the exiled woman, returning to her country, and who is, no longer, the "˜same as them,'" Pham said.

The film is about complex cultural interactions, and Pham says the key to telling her story was making it true to life.

"The desire to make films comes from inside, it is authentic and natural," she says. "It is for you, above all else. So a movie based on knowledge or what you understand won't be silly."

Making a unique picture is risky, but Pham makes it sound relatively easy.

"I know what I want and my story well," she says. "At my age, I do not have enough time to fear or hesitate. I just pursue my own path, no matter how hard it will be or how great the risk of failure is. I'm also not like local young filmmakers who want to gain a foothold in the industry. I just bring the audience a truthful story with no stars on the screen. Those who watch my movie can find themselves in it."

The director says that her film focuses on cultural integration and the liberation of the human heart in the face of death.

"The man feels lonely in his own world when he does not adapt to the other country's culture and cannot change the irreversible circle of life. The complicated difference between the lonely world and normal world will interest the audience,

I think," says Pham.

Pham says her biggest inspiration is French filmmaker Robert Bresson, who was famous for casting unknowns to give his films their simple, authentic feel.

"He never asks film stars to take part in his films. Instead he creates stars through his classic films. I am not him, but I aspire to be like him. No one depicts a sailor better than he does himself," Pham says. 

Thus, Pham choose her husband, Swiss director Jean-Luc Mello, to play the protagonist. The village's ship owner even plays himself in the film.

Sipping coffee, Pham explains that her husband also helped her come up with the story and write the film.

"After numerous draft scenes, I simply knew he was the one for the part. And he does not have to act."  

Films without borders

Above all, Pham says she's lucky for having the opportunity to watch movies from all over the world.

"Some Asian countries like Iran, China, Thailand or India really have amazing films conveying profound themes."

  But she says that Vietnamese audiences sometimes limit themselves by trying to figure out the exact reasons that something happens on screen, instead of enjoying how the events inspire emotions.

"Emotions do not answer "˜why' but "˜how.' The more films you watch, the more your mind opens, no matter where you are from, whether developed or developing countries."

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