Recipe for disaster

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A new decree regulating that more Vietnamese productions must be shown on television and in cinemas has industry insiders fearing a flood of TV shows and movies of dubious quality.

In an attempt to invigorate the local film industry, the decree requires television stations to air Vietnamese programs for at least 30 percent of their total film air time. It also says that primetime between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. must be filled with exclusively Vietnamese productions, according to an announcement on the government website.

At the same time, local cinemas must screen Vietnamese films for at least 20 percent of their total shows.

But several filmmakers say the local industry simply isn't ready to be putting out more films.

They say the current state of Vietnamese cinema is low on quality and creativity, and high on kitsch and superficiality. They say poorly trained professionals are already cranking out contrived and sloppily made films by the dozen in hopes of a quick profit.

Possible backfire

HCMC-based director Pham Ngoc Chau (Cu dam, or "The fist") said he and other directors were already in a tight spot.

He said scriptwriting in Vietnam was undeveloped, meaning that good directors always had to re-write the screenplays given to them, while at the same time being forced to rush production by producers who easily replace directors who fall behind schedule.

He said this was not how quality films got made, adding that other directors also rushed through filmmaking in order to make as many pictures as they could.

Director Vu Ngoc Dang (Bong dung muon khoc, or "Suddenly wanna cry," and Dep tung centimet or "Beautiful by the centimeter) agreed that there were not enough good scripts to go around.

But hot young director Le Thanh Son (Bay rong, or "Clash") told Thanh Nien Weekly it was silly to blame just the screenwriters.

"We'd be lucky if the Vietnamese film industry only lacked professional screenwriters!" he said.

"There's no part of the Vietnamese film industry that is professional. Poor screenwriters if we blame only them! Producers are naïve, amateur, lack observational skills, lack the ability to review films, and suffer from a severe lack of training."

For Son, this was not the right environment in which people should be forced to make more films.

He added that film projects were already green-lit way too easily and that too few in the industry really cared about quality.

"Everyone is easy with themselves in work. Without the decree, things have already been very bad."

Music video director Huynh Thanh Sy told Thanh Nien Weekly that an episode of a Vietnamese TV series used to be shot in about three days. Now it was three episodes a day, he said.

"To many people, television is the place to make money and run," Sy said.

Son and other filmmakers agreed that they don't even watch Vietnamese films or TV shows that their friends make.

Too demanding

To say that the decree will put a strain on the industry is an understatement.

Out of the country's 65 television stations nationwide, only the three largest ones have the financial capacity to produce their own content: Vietnam Television, Ho Chi Minh City Television and Hanoi Radio Television.

Other stations don't have enough advertising revenue so they just buy the cheap copyrights to old Chinese and Korean shows.

Other provincial stations in Quang Ninh, Vinh Phuc, Lam Dong and An Giang usually just buy old foreign films or old Vietnamese films and television shows at low prices and have almost no time for new Vietnamese programs.

Experts also worry the decree will prove unrealistic at local movie theaters.

Every year, Vietnam produces around ten feature films, but at least 100 foreign films are screened here annually.

Only half of the Vietnamese films make a profit, usually only those on screens during the Tet (the Lunar New Year festival) when people have time off and other forms entertainment are closed.

"I think the decree is rather impractical to the Vietnamese film industry," acclaimed director Charlie Nguyen (The rebel, De Mai tinh) told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"Most Vietnamese cinemas are private-run and they put profit as the highest priority. If the decree is to be obeyed, the government should subsidize movies or build more theaters."

But Chau Quang Phuoc, PR manager from BHD Co., Ltd (Vietnam Media Corp.) which produced the international award-winning film Choi voi (Adrift), told a different side of the story.

"Basically, I think the decree is necessary to develop Vietnam's film industry. As a producer, we always welcome any support for local productions like this... there always needs to be a limit for foreign films."

He said BHD never let quality slip because of other "pressures."

"We always make films with specific plans and standards... quality will be the stamp of long-term development at BHD."

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