Vietnamese Director Urges Filmmakers Not to Fear Censors

An undated handout picture provided by the Berlin Film Festival on 12 February 2015 shows Vietnamese actors Truong The Vin, Truong Van Hoang, Mai Quoc Viet and Le Cong Hoans in a still from the film 'Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories' (Cha va con va) by Vietnamese director Phan Dang Di. The movie will be presented in out of competition of the 65th annual Berlin Film Festival 'Berlinale', which runs from 05 to 15 February. EPA

By Andrew McCathie

BEIJING (DPA) – Vietnamese director Phan Dang Di on Friday urged filmmakers from his country not to be wary of the nation's sometimes heavy-handed censorship.

"I don't think you have to be afraid of that censorship," Phan told a press conference marking the premiere of his new movie Cha Va Con Va (Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories) at the Berlin Film Festival.

"Censorship is still a problem in Vietnam," Phan said. "But there are more avenues opening up. I shoot the films that I want to shoot. I don't shoot them in anticipation of the censors."

"I believe that censorship will disappear at some point in Vietnam," he said.

Set in Saigon in the mid-1990s, Phan's film is about a group of friends trying to find their place in a Vietnam still struggling with the aftermath of 20 years of war.

Cha Va Con Va takes the audience on a journey through the grey underworld of communist Vietnam where the young would-be photographer Vu and his friends spend a large part of their time.

But trouble with the law and a bunch of urban thugs forces the friends to flee to the Mekong Delta, where they reconnect through the swampy landscape and impenetrable jungles to life outside the city.

"This was a time when Vietnam and the world were moving into a new century," Phan told the press conference.

It was also about two decades after the end of the Vietnam War,  when the country was in the grip of an economic downturn triggered by the Asian financial crisis that engulfed the region in the mid-1990s.

"There was a surge in the population and young people were eager to get into the labour market but there were not enough jobs," he said.

This means that for some, as Phan's film shows, selling drugs, gambling and prostitution were some of the few means for making money.   

In telling his story, Phan draws a strong contrast between the violence and dangers of the city and the beauty of the Vietnamese countryside by painting a striking portrayal of the Mekong Delta environment.

"If we live in the city we need to have some refuge," said Phan. "And if we destroy the environment we will not have a refuge."

Ultimately, the friends return to Saigon but the dangers have not disappeared and the friends find themselves battling again to keep their heads above water and to pay off past debts.

"Violence is part and parcel of life in Vietnam. Just as we have a sense of order, violence bursts open at some points," the director said.

In the end, the friends decide to sign up to a government programme which pays modest money to volunteers to help stem the nation's population pressures by having a vasectomy.

Cha Va Con Va is a film about a group of young men who decide in the end against being fathers and forging a new generation in the country, said Phan.

Vietnamese filmmakers have over the years gained recognition on the international film festival circuit with Tran Anh Hung winning the Cannes Film Festival's Camera d'Or in 1993 for his first feature film The Scent of the Green Papaya.

Several other festival prizes followed for other Vietnamese directors.

However, the Vietnamese movie industry has for the most part struggled over the last three decades to have its voice heard in the country following the government's moves to modernize the nation's communist-era command economy.

This has left them often competing with television and a burgeoning DVD industry.

Phan also concedes that money is in short supply in Vietnam for independent filmmakers.

"It would not be possible to make any independent film in Vietnam," he said. "We were free to make a film (because of international financial assistance)."