Golden Kite flying low

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Vietnam's 2nd major film award fails to distinguish itself

Poster for Tam Hon Me (Mother's Soul). The film, featuring a single mom's complicated life with her two children, is considered one of the best films up for a Golden Kite Award.

Created after the national film award, the Golden Kite Award of the Vietnam Cinema Association has not contributed anything new to the country's movie industry since being established nearly 20 years ago.

Critics said Canh Dieu Vang (Golden Kite) has not lifted its winners to higher levels of prestige within film industry.

Since 1993 the Golden Kite has been one of the two major film awards in Vietnam, along with Bong Sen Vang (the Golden Lotus) of the Vietnam National Film Festival.

Established in 1971, the Golden Lotus has continued to propel artists to honorable titles such as the People's Artist and the Artist of Excellency.

But the annual Golden Kite Award carries no such weight.

In response to years of Golden Kite recipients complaining about the lack of recognition the achievement has conferred, this year the government chose to devalue the award further by assigning two Golden Kites the value of one Golden Lotus in applying for national honors for art.

That is how low the Golden Kite is flying.

Many people only consider the Golden Kite to be a cheap copycat of the Golden Lotus because both awards supposedly judge films based on how innovative, culturally distinctive, humanistic and influential they are.

Dang Xuan Hai, chairman of the Vietnam Cinema Association, differentiated the awards saying that the Lotus "orients the country's movie industry," while the association's award is more about "promoting creative works."

But according to local critics, the award is not following that guideline as its winners have not been among the most creative Vietnamese movies, and they have hardly set a new standard for the local film industry.


The Golden Kite Award will be given away in Hanoi on March 17 this year and not on the 15th, Vietnamese Cinema Day, which is the normal date.

The change has been made because Vietnam Television's broadcast schedule was too full to carry the event live on March 15. Last year it was held on March 13.

This year the awards have attracted 11 movies, 18 TV series, and scores of documentaries, "science" films, and animation films. The movies range from art-house to commercial, action, and, for the first time, horror.

Another change pertains to the entries themselves a film does not need to have its producer, scriptwriter, or director as a member of the Vietnam Cinema Association for it to be entered in the competition.

This has allowed more filmmakers and producers to enter their films, including some overseas Vietnamese and naturalized Vietnamese.

Yet another change pertains to the jury unlike in the past, the organizers have not revealed the names of judges, only those of the heads of each category.

Dang Xuan Hai, chairman of the Vietnam Cinema Association, said this was because the judges do not want to be bothered with questions.

"They asked us to keep their identities confidential," he said.

The awards ceremony will be held at the Hanoi Friendship Cultural Palace, 91 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoan Kiem District.

Golden Kite winners tend to be those of the Vietnam National Film Festival, which usually comes a few months earlier.

Doan Tuan, a film editor and deputy Editor-in-Chief of The gioi dien anh (Movie world) Magazine, said in a Lao Dong report on March 11 that recent winners of the Golden Kite have lacked creativity.

Chronological storytelling has typified past Golden Kite winners, Tuan said. All the movies begin at the birthplace of the protagonist, who then suffers a mishap growing up and has to leave to start a life on the run.

In linear stories, the audience is supposed to see changes in the attitudes of the main characters through the way they see and react to things, Tuan said.

But in most of those films, the directors have had the actors portray their emotions in an over-the-top manner, as opposed to letting their acting speak for itself, he said.

He said the directors failed to establish the main character's point of view, which makes the stories come off as "fake."

"The characters are not connected, they're inconsistent and too plain," Tuan said.

He said the films were not innovative in their production designs compared to other films.

The war scenes in these films were simplistic, lacking the atmosphere of an actual battlefield. In other films, many scenes did not contribute significantly to the story.

Meanwhile, highly creative movies have been ignored by the Golden Kite.

The award used to open only to movies whose team had at least one member from the Vietnam Cinema Association. The requirement was abolished this year.

Several experiments by indie filmmakers such as the international award winning Bi, dung so (Bi, Don't be afraid) and the widely acclaimed Choi voi (Adrift) have failed to impress the Golden Kite judges. The former was not so much as nominated; the latter failed to win.

Thus critics have said that Golden Kite claims to be "promoting works with creative ideas or methods" is merely a goal, not what the award has done or is doing.

They said the Golden Kite, which awards TV shows, documentaries, and critiques and studies of cinema, has given false encouragement to movie makers instead of recognition for their work, arguing the award needs to make major changes.

Renowned Vietnamese director Luu Trong Ninh called the panel of judges "amateurish" as it groups one director, one sound editor, one cinematographer and one scriptwriter to assess all the categories.

"A director then is given just as much voice as a sound editor, causing the assessment to be askew," Ninh told Xa Luan.

"When we only have a small group of people, the general assessment will be very personal. Egotistical directors are easily eliminated while humble ones go through."

Inconsistent and unconventional categories also give the Golden Kite an unprofessional air, such as in 2007 when the award recognized the Film with the Largest Audience and the Top Box Office Film.

Twelve films have been entered for the Golden Kite awards this year, with the winners due to be announced March 17.

Three of them were Silver Lotus winners at the Vietnam National Film Festival last December, and most others were popular successes of the Lunar New Year Festival in January.

Phan Dang Di, a scriptwriter and director of Bi, dung so, said the problem of a low bar derives from the fact that Vietnam produces relatively few films each year, most of them of the commercial variety.

Di told Vietweek the award will only become relevant when it can gather more creative and experimental works.

"The root of the problem is there're not enough movies and they're not diversified. Then, the problem is no longer the Vietnam Cinema Association, but the country's entire movie industry."


Last week the Vietnam Cinema Association organized a conference in Hanoi to evaluate Vietnam's movie industry over the past decade.

Participants said there was little to discuss as the industry has not stepped forward.

Old issues which remain unsolved were brought back for discussion such as a shortage of funding and poor quality scriptwriters.

Scriptwriter Doan Minh Tuan said, "Our movie making still cannot be compared with that of the region, let alone the world yet."

Dang Nhat Minh, who was honored by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told Vietweek, "We are not good enough or reach a proper level to think about an Oscar in the near future. We need to try much harder."

This year's Oscar winner for The Best Foreign Language Film, "A Separation," which was made in Iran, is an example Vietnamese filmmakers should follow, Minh said in an interview on March 12.

"Their production cost was not high, just equal to an average film of ours, their techniques were not especially impressive, and their censorship is even stricter than ours.

"They just had a distinct idea, a distinctive voice. They did not imitate anyone," the director said.

In an attempt to change the face of Vietnam's movie industry, many people at the conference suggested giving more access to young and private filmmakers. (By Ngoc An)

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