Short film fest finds its feet

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Vietnamese thriller "˜Underground' (2) is among movies screened at the fourth edition of online short film festival YxineFF, which will end December 13. Photo courtesy of YxineFF

YxineFF has been back for the fourth time, and it is certainly making a name for itself.

The online short film fest has drawn greater participation from filmmakers within and outside the country and attracted more viewers every year.

Its online views have increased from more than one million in the first years to more than 2.5 million in 2012, according to information on its website.

From curious interest in the beginning, the festival has found its feet and won respect from insiders as a true cradle of indie film aspirations.

"YxineFF has become a real film fest, and more importantly, a feast that is always free and open," acclaimed Vietnamese French director Tran Anh Hung said in a The Thao & Van Hoa newspaper report last week.

This year's festival, themed "Choice", attracted 200 entries including documentaries and cartoons, submitted between April and July this year. Of these, 76 have been chosen for screening until the festival ends in the middle of December.

YxineFF awards movies in four major categories: international, local Vietnamese, Panorama and In Focus. There were 100 entries in the first year (2010) on the theme of love, 150 each for the next two editions, with respective themes "Belief" and "Individual".

This year many foreign films have come in from other Southeast Asian countries, including three from the newly-opened Myanmar's Yangon Film School. Five came from the Korean National University of Art and others from India, Rumania, Italy, Germany, France, China, Australia and the United States.

One Vietnamese entry, "Bong kia sen" (Cine - Dream), is a boat journey of a cockroach and the friends it makes on the way. Its Director Huynh Cong Nho dropped out of college to follow his filmmaking dream.

"Duoi long dat" (Underground), an international competition nominee, is a Vietnamese thriller that depicts a typical village afternoon that goes eventful when a group of youngsters decide to come to play at the graveyard, which keeps thousands of untold stories.

Filipino film "Forgotten Angels on Paper Planes" is set around red light districts of Angeles, Pampanga Province. It shows abandoned children of local women and US marines nurturing desperate hopes of a better future.

Cambodian piece "Daughter and the Palmae Blossom" was nominated for a Rainbow Heart (for LGBT movies) together with two Vietnamese films.  Myanmar's "Charcoal Boy" a Green Heart as it touches sustainable development.

There's one film about the wife of a disabled man torn between her physical desires and her vow and beliefs; and others that deal with women struggling between traditional and modern values, marriages that defy religious barriers and social prejudice in Indonesia, a farmer's life on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in the wake of the alleged North Korean attacks, and the truth behind the political flamboyance in Filipino elections.

Malaysian drama "Memoria" surrounds a girl's dull routine to discuss about dealing with betrayal from one's beloved people and moving on from hurtful past, while German documentary "A Mongolian girl with a bag full of happiness" portraits a young Mongolian woman coming to Eastern Germany as a child with great expectations, only to face the reality of high unemployment and rampant racism.

Vu Manh Cuong, a young businessman and a movie lover who started the film fest website, said it has been a successful forum for young indie filmmakers, and as an online event, attracted participants from across the world.

"The project was started with the passion and belief that it was the right and beautiful thing, being independent and self-controlled. 

"We're glad that our vision has received good responses from many people inside and outside the country, and that will be a big support for us to stick with it," Cuong told The Thao & Van Hoa.

This independence is not something that the local film industry has had, with movies made by state-run studios, depending on the state budget and having to face suffocating scrutiny, while private productions keep eyes fixed on box office returns rather than artistic maturity.

Writer Doan Anh Thuan, a judge for international films, said the festival has given participants "freedom in their creativity, which is of ultimate importance in practicing arts."

Observing how far the festival has gone, Hung has signed up to be a supporter for this year, together with other big names in Vietnam's movie industry award-winning director Phan Dang Di and Vietnamese American director Charlie Nguyen who is this year's jury head.

As people who had started their filmmaking careers with short films, the directors all praised YxineFF for its ability to give any starters a free chance.

Charlie Nguyen, director of 2007 blockbuster "Dong mau anh hung" (The Rebel), said in an interview with the website posted on YouTube that the film fest has created a movement among new filmmakers.

"There's a fire, an excitement for any person longing to make a film as they know they will have an audience."

Di, whose "Bi, Dung so" (Bi, Don't be afraid) won two Critics Week awards at Cannes in 2010, said the large online audience base is an advantage that filmmakers in his time did not have.

"Here, the whole world can watch your movie and the directors thus may be able to measure the quality of their products."

As a director who constantly voices support for young filmmakers and freedom in filmmaking, Di said YxineFF saves filmmakers from most of the government's censorship as an unofficial venue.

"It allows freedom of expression, making the road to real filmmaking shorter and more practical," he said.

Hung also said good filmmakers need to focus on their passion and put concerns about censorship behind, and the YxineFF environment gives room to do exactly that.

The film fest organizers said although they don't impose strict regulations like a governmental supervisory body, they implement their own flexible set of rules that has proved effective keeping the website from being shut down and meanwhile attracting more indie filmmakers.

Hung said with its diverse content and languages, YxineFF allows Vietnamese filmmakers to judge where they stand among the world film industry, even if it is the shorter format.

The festival only added awards for international films last year, though it had introduced new filmmakers in previous years.

This year, six short films made at the beginning of their career by successful directors Siu Pham, Phan Dang Di, Nguyen Quang Dung, Vu Ngoc Dang, US-based Ham Tran (who made a profitable debut with a romcom chick flick last month) and award-winning Bui Thac Chuyen (head of the jury last year) were screened in a new category called Before The Long Feature.

The festival's awards include certificates, tools and cash prizes ranging from VND5-20 million (US$237-950). Some awards are based on viewers' votes.

The film fest currently receives support from many organizations including the Danish Cultural Development & Exchange Fund, Goethe Institute Vietnam, British Council Vietnam and the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as media companies and film studios.

It has built close partnership with Blue Productions an indie film company founded by renowned actress Hong Anh, also a member of the jury, and the duo have been distributing several short films to local television stations.

Cuong said he hopes YxineFF can develop into a private studio and sponsor young filmmakers' projects in the near future.

Charlie Nguyen said YxineFF has high potential to grow into a prominent film fest not only because it is open, diverse and international, but also because it has a team of passionate and encouraging organizers.

"It has matured through the years, and a generation of [professional] filmmakers will come up from there."

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