The long and short of it

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There are now more reasons to make short films than ever, but in Vietnam they are still seen as stepping stones

Filming off the waters of Khanh Hoa Province for Tran Ly Tri Dan's short film Dieu ky dieu (The magic thing) which won one prize for its script from HCMC Cinema Association in 2008

Short films are not moneymakers in Vietnam, so commercial motivations do not come into play when they are made.

However, like elsewhere in the world, there is the possibility that short films can pave the way to a successful future in the feature film industry, and that is powerful motivation indeed.

"It does not matter if the short film does not win any awards. Making short films is a necessary experiment for one who is just getting started. If one fails, he or she can do it again. This is not true of the long film. One may never have the chance to make a long film again after the failure of the first one," says Charlie Nguyen, a Vietnamese American film director and scriptwriter.

In fact, "95 percent of the filmmakers in the world make just one long film his or her whole life," he says.

Young filmmaker Phan Dang Di who just won two Critics' Week awards at Cannes with Bi, dung so (Bi, don't be afraid) gained initial recognition with his short film: Khi toi 20 (When I am 20) which was selected for the Short Film Competition at the Vernice festival in 2005. He agrees with Charlie Nguyen.

"Earlier it was more difficult to make short films but now young filmmakers should take advantage of the fact that there are many international funds which are willing to help make short films."

Di told Thanh Nien Weekly: "Theoretically, anyone can make a short film. Now short films can be made with digital equipment. And at most film festivals, there is space for short films which are recognized."

Di said it was difficult for him to be completely satisfied with any short film he has made. If he likes the images in one, the sound is not good enough. But this dissatisfaction gave him the energy to make a new film which is more complete.

Who makes short films?

In the days when the government was still subsidizing most of the feature length films made in Vietnam, a classic like Bao gio cho den thang muoi (When will it be October?) took years to make. But then filmmakers did not have to suffer from the pressure of cost and time. Now, when the market economy holds roost, filmmakers have to be very careful with the investment.

Many young filmmakers like Di have started with short films as a necessary experiment. But with the Vietnamese viewers still to develop the habit of going to the cinema to watch short films, there is no market for the genre. Most short films are shown at the University of Theater and Cinema, viewed online or screened at cafés by organizations such as Future Shorts or YXine for free or for moderately priced tickets. With the meager pickings they offer, there are not many takers for this challenging task

Quoc Trung (front) and Doan Thi Nhu Trang (behind) in Khi toi 20 (When I am 20), a short film by Phan Dang Di funded by the Ford foundation which was selected to join the Competition of Short film in the 2005 Venice festival.

Currently, most local short film makers are students of the University of Theater and Cinema, staff of advertising firms, or those who have graduated as film directors but work in the technical or business side of the film industry who long for the chance to make a film. Some of them work for documentary film companies and want to create something that really interests them.

"I work as a film director for a documentary film company and am searching for the chance to make a long film. Until now I have not had the chance to meet many people but I think making short films can bring me the opportunity I am looking for," said 32-year-old Ho Van Nam.

Do Dang Thuong, who has just graduated as a graphic designer in Singapore, is looking for recognition and opportunity through short films.

Fresh breezes

Aficionados of the genre have recently been attracted by two short-film projects in Hanoi and HCMC: Hanoi, em yeu anh (Hanoi, I love you) and Saigon, anh yeu em (Saigon, I love you).

Young, amateur filmmakers in both cities get together online to make short films of 5 to 10 minutes. Inspired by the famous short film collection (Paris, je t'aime) made in 2006, these short films tell personal love stories.

Other challenges

Nam asserts that making a short film can be more difficult than the longer features. A short film has to be compact, have a climax and be surprising at the end. Many directors of long films continue making short ones as they can make them with more personal control.

With few prospective benefits, short films have to be made in a short time as well. "A film like Loi cua ai (Whose fault is that?) (screened by Future Shorts along with other short films from all over the world earlier this month in HCMC) was made in just two days. I tried to create a real living environment for the amateur actors. It was made during the rainy season so I was under many pressures. If I was late, the schedule would be changed and the expenses would rise," said Nam.

For young filmmakers, making short movies encourages them to overcome a lot of limitations. "The pressures create fears that every young student who starts making short films may not overcome. Sometimes these fears prevent filmmakers from writing scripts, going outside to shoot or refrain from showing the film. But after the first short film is made, the fear disappears," said Huynh Thanh Sy, a young film director who writes music scripts.

For Sy's friend Le Binh Giang, financial pressures are a primary concern. "I am a student so investing in a movie, even a short one makes me consider a script that will cost me the least," said Giang.

Thuong has found a way to make a short film with the lowest possible budget he can (VND800,000). The film which took six months to make, has no actors.

But cutting cost is not always the best policy.

"Now there are many funds for young filmmakers. It is just the matter of snatching the opportunity," said Cannes award winner Phan Dang Di.

"A short film takes a reasonable budget and I work with groups of friends from whom I have a lot of support. Making short films is a good start to come to feature films. Just Google and you will see very clearly that now it is easy to find investment and funds to make short films."

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