Annual film awards everywhere never fail to attract a fair share of controversy.
With the judges, the press and the public frequently at odds over which film or actor deserved a prize or not, controversy is par for the course at such events.
However, this year's Canh Dieu Vang (Golden Kite) Awards, handed out on Sunday, March 13, by the Vietnam Cinema Association (VCA), ended with little debate about award selection but a lot of raised eyebrows over how pedantic the whole affair was and how inexplicable some of the decisions taken by the organizers were.
Long Thanh cam gia ca (Ballad of a Thang Long musician) ended up with the Golden Kite award, giving the slip to Canh dong bat tan (Floating lives).
Critics generally agreed that Long Thanh cam gia ca won the top prize for being well-made in all aspects, unlike other contenders that were more inconsistent.
However, Canh dong bat tan led the field with a total of five awards including the Canh Dieu Bac (Silver Kite), the "Best picture" vote from the press, "Best leading actress," "Best supporting actor" and "Best original soundtrack."
Canh dong bat tan is based on a best-selling novel about a single father raising his daughter and son by himself in the Mekong Delta. The man has lost his faith in love, but things change when a prostitute steps into his life. The film attracted big crowds at the box office last October grossing VND3.3 billion (US$169,317) in three days.
Another title contender, historical film Khat vong Thang Long (Thang Long's aspiration), won two golden kites for "Best director", "Best leading actor" as well as a silver kite for "Best picture."
There was no major disagreement with the official jury's choices, but not many were happy with the removal of the audience choice awards this year. Instead, the press was given the right to make their award choices.
Organizers explained that the audience choice awards were too varied and they did not have enough time to allow for large numbers of people to make their choice, sift through them and pick the winners.
The only hint of "excitement" about the awards came before they took place. With just a few days left to go until the big day, box office hit Giao lo dinh menh (Inferno) by Viet kieu director Victor Vu was revoked from the list of nominations for "Best picture." The thriller was accused of being based on Wolfgang Petersen's "Shattered" released in 1991.
Both films tell the story of a man struggling with amnesia following a traffic accident, and the protagonist discovers a shocking truth about his past.
Tran Luan Kim, chairman of the festival jury, had previously said that the film, in spite of having a similar plot with the American production, hadn't violated any intellectual property laws since he had not known of any notice of lawsuit filed by the producers of "Shattered." So it still had the right to compete for the award, he said.
However, the VCA was forced to review their decision in the face of relentless criticism from the public and film critics.
Local blockbuster De Mai tinh (Fool for love), which grossed close to $1 million in ticket sales, and international awards' collector Bi, dung so (Bi, don't be afraid) were missing from the list. The first missed out on the registration deadline and the latter could not be entered without permission from its foreign producer, the VCA said.
The producer of Bi, dung so did not choose to register it for the Golden Kite awards, and director Phan Dang Di said he had no say in the matter.
The lack of nominees was made glaringly obvious in the failure to release details of the list to the public. No one knew in advance which film was in contention for which award. A representative of one local producer said the organizers used an "internal list" this time.
Director Nguyen Vinh Son, member of the jury, offered the somewhat unconvincing explanation that the lack of applications made the list of nominees small and influenced the decision not to make it public.
There were local beauty queens galore to grace the red carpet at Hoa Binh Theater in their most stunning gowns, but their presence could not save the ceremony, aired live for one and a half hours on the national channel, from being monotonous for the most part.
Troubles in light and sound settings, and emcees sputtering and mispronouncing the winner's names only added to the pedestrian nature of the evening.
With no climaxes and surprises, the winners quickly went through the motions of stepping up and receiving their awards, given little or no time to express their emotions. Once again, the organizers had an excuse limited airing time.
Thanh Thuy, a movie fan, had other criticisms. She wondered about the changes made in the award's categories when Dinh Toan, who won "Best leading actor" for his impressive portrayal of the Machiavellian Le Long Dinh in Khat vong Thang Long, was actually nominated for the award as a supporting actor.
"I watched the film. Toan's role is supporting, but he is the most highlighted part of the movie. Many newspapers also predicted that he was a sure winner of the "˜Best supporting actor' award. He did deserve to win the "˜Best leading actor' award, but the sudden switch still surprised me," Thuy said.
Thuy said she was surprised again that "Best leading actress" Lan Ngoc, who played Nuong the daughter of the single father in Canh dong bat tan, was also originally nominated for the category of "Best supporting actress."
The organizers said that they made the sudden change after being impressed by the incredibly strong acting of those playing supporting roles, which actually managed to blur the main/supporting lines.
Noted actress Hong Anh, member of the jury panel, said the quality of nominations this year did not satisfy the judges.
"We found ourselves saying "˜if' and "˜if only' while watching the films, instead of "˜wow.' But we did see some good historical films produced by private companies that had a high degree of artistic value."