After a rushed week of packing and moving home cross-city in Seoul, in a significant down-market drop from university paid lux apartment to $370 a month 3 room apartment in a far-from-the-center neighborhood, we had a day to settle and then take the metro to the airport for the flight to Hanoi. Here we’re on day 4 of a 6 day workshop organized by the Vietnam Film Department, a government agency dealing with filmmaking and exhibition. As anticipated the workshop is turning out to be an iffy matter. Originally we were told there would be 40 participants – way too many for my tastes – and they’d mostly be “professionals.” Day one started with 21 or so, a handful of film students and the rest from various film units – police, army, docu – and a mix of others, including some directors. Mostly cameramen (35mm mostly) and directors. A handful of women of the 21.
I showed them some DV shorts, of experimental kind, hoping to open their eyes to digital possibilities, but feeling it was a risk for these kinds of people. It was, and they were apparently mostly left perplexed. Asking for an introduction of themselves, and of their interests, they said, mostly repeating each other, they wanted to learn low-budget film techniques, and how to make work that was commercial and how to sell, etc. Internally I rolled my eyes, thinking “you got the wrong guy here.” But I kind of knew this would be the story here, in keeping with my experience in some nearby realms – Singapore, India, Philippines. They dream of making bucks, competing with Hollywood, and maybe in Hong Kong and Beijing they can, but not here.
Vietnam has a population of 93 million these days, and it is poor – though allegedly their economy is growing in leaps and bounds. Hanoi is a jammed melange of architectural curiousities – colonial and governmental buildings, some new high-rises, and mostly 3-5 floor long thin buildings each topped with a kind of improvised fantasy, very interesting in many ways. On the streets a million motorbikes compete with far fewer cars, in a smoggy mess, in which lanes are conceptual only, with little practice. Kind of like southern Italy, except where in Italy there is a sense of frenetic spurting ahead, passing, and an aura of anger over it all, here it is in fact messier traffic-wise, but the ambiance is calm, and there is little sense of anger, rather a perhaps Buddhist resignation to the way of things.
Anyway back to the workshop. After a first day of feeling a bit wobbly, had them shoot some things and got some interesting things back, if all rather timid relative to my request to let ‘er rip with digital mayhem and fun. After a look at the first things I gave an exercise of limited shots, time, and the rule to keep the camera fixed except for one shot of 8 to 12. When they came back most had ignored the rules, shot numbers, camera movement, etc. So I pointed out how the few that had kept to the rules worked and looked better, and then I sent them out to try again. We looked at those, and sensing a kind of frustration in them, I asked if they’d like to break into groups and make a film the last 4 days. They said yep and so today we talked a little, did a head count (down to 12 or 13) and let them go try to shoot little films. One about gays and HIV; one about “loyal virginity” (fictions), then a few docs. They are due on Saturday afternoon i.e., two and a half days. Tomorrow we’ll see what they’ve done and help with advice and editing if need be. I am not optimistic on the results, but hopefully it’ll come out OK. Basically their schooling is here is very much rote learning, by the book, and though they purport to be professionals, little things like white balance, keeping the lens clean, etc. seem to elude some of them. I think the reality is that between the educational methods and poverty here, they get little chance to actually practice and shoot/edit. I have been underlining that this is what they need to do, and that DV lets them do it for lowest possible costs. Hopefully a bit sinks in.
Tomorrow we’ll meet and have lunch with the director of the film department and if circumstances allow I’ll propose possibly returning either for a long workshop (6 days under the circumstances of limited equipment, breaking culturally imposed learning habits, etc. is really not enough) or perhaps for a year or two to set up a proper little school. It is interesting and lively enough here to be inviting, and I guess my sense of moral obligation to this country and its people is such that a little something nudges and says to me, return a small bit of something as recompense for how much the USA inflicted in damage here. So I’ll report on this after the lunch and we see if there’s this option for the future.
I note here that apparently www.wordpress.com is censored here in Vietnam as I am unable to access cinemaelectronica.com here, and note that other wordpress things don’t open. So I’ve posted this to Ryan who is posting from Milwaukee for me. (Thanks Ryan!)