Short films, which are highly popular elsewhere, struggle to impress moviegoers and producers in Vietnam.
A short horror film titled "The 4th" made by five media-design students from Ho Chi Minh City's Raffles International College Vietnam was among the 64 chosen to the International Student Film Festival Hollywood 2009 (ISFFH).
The nonprofit organization chose the film from 250 entries it received for its annual festival to support young filmmakers last November.
The 20-minute film about the mysterious goings-on on the fourth floor of a house, which cost only VND3.5 million (US$189.5) to make, won the award for "Best horror/thriller."
Vu Ngoc Dang, director of blockbusters like Nhung co gai chan dai (Leggy girls) and Tuyet nhiet doi (Tropical snow), graduated from the city's College of Theater and Cinematography in 1999 with short film Vo chong chuot (A Rat Couple).
The film, which won a prize at the International Students Film Festival in Israel in 2001, describes the emotional bond between a pair of rats which helps heal the marital rifts between two human couples.
Do these show the health of Vietnamese of the short-films industry or that the country makes good shorts once a decade? Sadly, it is the latter.
Though the National Short Films Competition has become entrenched in the nation's annual film calendar, short filmmakers have failed to enthuse moviegoers or find sponsorship or support from cinemas.
Juhani Alanen, managing director of Finland's Tampere Short Film Fest, says Vietnamese short films are highly appreciated but are not properly marketed.
Attending international film festivals is one of the most effective ways for short-film directors to achieve international standard and gain experience, he says.
At a panel discussion on "Short films in the international integration context" at the 16th Vietnam Film Festival held last December, most young filmmakers and producers argued that Vietnamese short films are in no way inferior to any other country's.
But its shorts remain unnoticed and do not reach the public, they said.
As a result, most makers of short films are young directors or students of stage arts or cinematography schools for whom the budget is a constraint.
Director Nguyen Thanh Van, who made Doi cat (Sandy Life), said young people are creative, active, and passionate, essential traits for a short-filmmaker.
"This art form depends on messages and ideas revealed in a few moments," he said.
"However, young filmmakers are unable to get financial backing." But things could be changing.
Support for short films
The Hanoi-based Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD), established by the Vietnam Cinema Association in 2002 and funded by the US charity Ford Foundation, is offering 100 percent financial and other support.
Its website says, "You have an idea for your short film. You have a complete script. You have a whole crew ready. But you don't have a budget - Yet."
TPD held the First Time Filmmakers Vietnam Documentary Competition for students and other youngsters.
Under a program titled "We Are the Filmmakers," it also holds many classes and workshops on filmmaking techniques, like the 1 pixel Film Festival for amateur filmmakers from all over Vietnam.
International television channel Discovery cooperated with Uproar Asia to launch the First Time Filmmakers (FTFM) Vietnam competition for 30-minute, story-based documentary films on "Vietnam's Urban Transition" last August.
Nguyen Manh Ha's "The Biggest House, the Smallest House", Phan Duy Linh's "The Jam Fighters", Phan Y Ly's "The City Passion", Dao Thanh Tung's "Life and Death in the City" and Hoang Manh Cuong's "The Man Dreaming of the Oscar Statue", were chosen because they depict a Vietnam in flux as it struggles to find a balance of old and new, according to organizers.
The winners received a $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to transform their screenplays into films, which will be aired on Discovery on March 24th this year.
In another exciting development, British short-film organization Future Shorts recently set up shop in HCMC.
Its agenda is to screen the best short films from around the world and help independent filmmakers to present their works globally. Future Shorts has expanded its presence to 29 countries and territories, with Vietnam being the latest.
Next year, it plans to a launch a film club called "Me phim" (Passion about films) which will hold regular screenings and discussions about films.
Britons Sophie Hughes and Bina Mistry and Vietnamese Nguyen Kim To Lan and Tran Minh Duc are behind these projects.
In November, Future Shorts screened four international short films, including "Beats from above" which premiered at Cot Dien Cafe in Binh Thanh District.
The group hopes to also get a foothold in Hanoi soon.
Future Shorts Vietnam plans to encourage young local filmmakers to submit their animation, documentary, sci-fi, musical, and experimental works for its upcoming events.
These are likely to be screened around the world at regular international programs.
"To provide a platform for filmmakers of all ages to showcase their works is the main target of Future Shorts Vietnam," Sophie said.
Tran Van Thuy's Tieng vi cam o My Lai (The Sound of the Violin at My Lai) won the Best Short Film prize at the 43rd Asia Pacific Film Festival in 1999.
Bui Thac Chuyen's Cuoc xe dem (Night Cyclo Trip) won third prize in the short film category at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.
Phan Dang Di's Sen (Lotus) was entered at the well-known Short Film Festival Clermont Ferrand in 2006 in France.
Khi toi 20 (When I'm 20), written and directed by Di, was one of the 18 films entered in the regional round for short films at the 2008 Venice Film Festival.
Phan Dang Di's Bi oi, dung so (Bi, Don't Be Afraid) won the "Outstanding Project of Asia" award at the Pusan Film Festival in South Korea in October 2007. It was invited to take part in the L'Atelier forum at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2008.
Mua thu nam (Fifth Season) made by Nguyen Hoang Diep, which won the first prize at the 2005 National Short Film Festival, opened the Rio de Janeiro Short Film Festival in Brazil that year.
San thuong (The Terrace) by Nguyen Ha Phong won the second prize at Germany's 53rd Oberhausen Film Festival, one of the oldest short-film festivals in the world (started in 1954). In 2005-06 he attended a training class held by the Center for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents based in Hanoi.