Lack of government support holds back Vietnamese films: ace director

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Directors and actors of "˜Nhung nguoi viet huyen thoai' (Legend Makers) and "˜Scandal Bi mat tham do' (Scandal) receive the Golden Lotus Awards for Best Film at the 18th Vietnam Film Festival in mid-October, 2013 in Ha Long Town

Authorities censor movies too heavy-handedly, banning anything out of the ordinary, preventing them from winning honors at international film festivals, where the unusual is cherished, popular director Phan Dang Di tells Vietweek.

Vietweek: Many films which have won the Golden Lotus Award - Vietnam's Oscars - have not been shown to audiences. What do you think about this?

Phan Dang Di: [Though] not many films are produced in Vietnam, some of them are not shown to audiences. This is wastefulness. Our films are not good enough to compete with foreign films which are imported en masse into the country.

Most of the movies, which are produced with the main aim of winning prizes and are not shown to audiences, are state-funded. The situation has persisted for years since there is no regulation requiring state film production companies to release them; they focus only on making films. They are not interested in releasing the movies because nobody is held responsible for the public funds used for them.


Films winning awards at leading international festivals often have a long lifespan and can be shown for many years after winning the awards. The most important of awards is the life of films after winning prizes.

How does a film win the Lotus Golden Award? Many of the winners seem boring "¦

This is a common issue. At some major film festivals like Cannes, award-winning films are unlikely to be ones liked by a large number of viewers - they do not sell well - but they are films high on artistic quality. They are different from commercial films, which are loved by audiences.

Vietnamese films are neither very artistic nor are popular. To improve this situation, Vietnam has to improve people's understanding of cinema, support young directors in making films, loosen censorship, and keep cinema policies unchanged. We have done nothing so far to improve our cinema. Meanwhile, foreign films flood our cinema market (some 100 foreign films are imported each year while only 10 new Vietnamese films are shown in cinemas).

Director Phan Dang Di
Our [film] festivals... do not have a practical target of uncovering new talent, unlike other festivals around the world

So is there any point in organizing the National Film Festival?

We should think of organizing a film festival only when we have enough products. Now we have too few films to organize the event. The government does not support new directors. Film festivals are organized to uncover new talent, but our festivals fail to do this. Our festivals are fun events for movie celebrities to get together. They do not have a practical target of uncovering new talent unlike other festivals around the world. They fail to do this because we have not invested in young filmmakers.

The government should help young directors make movies. This is the only way for us to have enough films for festivals. Is it necessary to organize them when only a small number of films made by old producers compete?
Our festivals will not change in the next 10-20 years if we still do not assist young directors with making films.

Why do young directors find it hard to get a foothold?

They do not have funds for film production. Film production companies only get famous directors to make commercial films, which are not sent to festivals. They are afraid of the risks involved in commissioning new directors. The government should invest in them, but it has not. We do not have funds to support young directors' films. The development of young directors is depending on foreign funds. With their support, new directors have the opportunity to make films. However, some funds have recently been withdrawn from Vietnam, reducing the opportunities for young directors to make their first film.

Other countries have funds to support young directors to make their first film. In France, there are some 100 films made by debutant directors. Many of them are of poor quality. But French cinema cannot find new talent if the government does not invest in young directors.

Vietnam cannot have a developed movie industry if we do not invest in young people who thirst to create.

Few Vietnamese films win awards at international film festivals. Why?

Our movie directors are not good enough to make outstanding works. We have strict censorship of films. Directors' talent can be fully expressed only when they are allowed freedom to implement their ideas. But Vietnamese directors cannot do it because of strict censorship. Their films suffer cuts if there is anything unusual.

But international festivals appreciate creative and unusual films. At leading film festivals, many award-winning films shock audiences with their violence and sex. Their opinion is that adults can see these films. The festivals look for new talent through such films while we ban them. So they cannot take part in the festivals.

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