Short films, long on quality

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An online festival of shorts that wrapped up this week brings new hope to Vietnamese cinema


A scene in animated 3D cartoon Duoi bong cay

An animated 3D cartoon about a boastful mouse has won a clutch of awards at the second online Yxine Film Festival which closed in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this week.

Duoi bong cay (Under the tree's shadow), a seven-minute flick made by a group of young local filmmakers called Colory, sees the mouse overcome his cowardice to save a friend from danger.

It won over both the jury and public to grab the Golden Heart and Best Director awards from the former and the Red Heart award from the latter.

Since it appeared first on YouTube last May Duoi bong cay has attracted hundreds of thousands of views. Many netizens have hailed it as being a breath of fresh air in the barren Vietnamese animation industry.

The festival, which opened more than three months ago, featured more than 100 shorts made by both foreign and Vietnamese filmmakers in all genres like feature, documentary, and animation that were shown online except for three premieres in HCMC, Hanoi, and Da Nang.

It gave away awards for best director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, and actress, a jury award (Golden Heart) an audience award (Red Heart), and four special awards (Green Heart, Crystal Heart, Fire Heart and New Heart.)

Green Heart is for the best documentary on sustainable development, New Heart honors new creative ideas, Fire Heart is for best production, and Crystal Heart is for best post production.

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YxineFF is a brainchild of Marcus Manh Cuong Vu, an assistant professor in international economic relations at Hamburg University, Germany. He also runs a website on movies, www.yxine.com, which is popular for its reviews and snippets about international cinema.

Van Bay of The Thao Van Hoa newspaper, a jury member, said this year the festival had seen an improvement in terms of both quantity and quality of entries.

"It was really hard for us to choose the winners since several movies were excellent.

"I myself loved Cho da di choi (Go play with ice) for its interesting details about a father and son, but we chose Tho ho (Masons), a documentary on the life of masons in remote areas, for the New Heart award."

It broke away from the hackneyed way of local documentaries which scripted characters' lines and did not allow them to be natural, he said.

"Many young filmmakers really surprised us."

The Vietnamese entries were much better than many local box office hits though the filmmakers did not have strong financial backing, he said.

For many of the young auteurs who entered their works, the festival was about experience and indulging their passion for cinema rather than just prizes.

Ta Nguyen Hiep, who had his film Phia sau cai chet (After death) shown in the Panorama section, has refused many good offers from TV producers so that he can pursue his dream. He thinks television does things too quickly for artistic integrity and gives the director no freedom.

He makes reality shows to feed his passion for cinema.

Phia sau cai chet won the prize for best short film at the Vietnam International Film Fest in the US earlier this year.

He and several of his cinema-loving friends want to make movies on their own terms, he says, and so pool money and effort for it, "like students."

"The job is easier if your film is short. The profits, as well as risks, are shared equally."

The expenses are cut to a minimum but he manages to ensure quality by shooting with a good digital camera.

"Many have joined me."

The 29-year-old is all set to make a film along with friends about a group of children in a coastal village in Binh Thuan Province.

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