By Trung Rwo –

There’s no sarcasm here. Vietnam’s Department of Cinema has announced a plan to make the local film industry the leading one in Southeast Asia by 2020, but experts have called it wishful thinking. The conference was organized to collect opinions from screenwriters, producers, directors and other experts on the Department of Cinema’s draft plan for developing Vietnam’s film industry. Nguyen Thi Hong Ngat (screenwriter) said the following at a conference in Hanoi:

It is a fantasy that Vietnam’s film industry will top the Southeast Asian region within the next seven years. It depends on many variable factors, including the determination of authorities, the presence of Vietnamese talent and the development of film industries in other countries. 

She noted that the current situation with the Vietnamese film industry was that it has no works  screening in international events, that the local market is dominated by foreign films, and local films are not exported overseas.

Other experts also pointed out that outdated filmmaking technology is one of the biggest challenges that Vietnam’s film industry needs to overcome. Director Do Thanh Hai said that at a recent film and television technology exhibition he asked two producers from Singapore and Malaysia for their opinions on dubbing. He told them that it takes lots of money and technology to do audio-recording directly in Vietnam.

In response to his question, the producers said direct audio-recording has been done in their countries for a long time.  Another problem, according to Nguyen Danh Duong, director of the National Cinema Center, is that from next year on the current celluloid technology will all but disappear and be replaced with digital technology.

This is cause for alarm because the draft plan set out by the Department of Cinema envisages application of new digital technology in Vietnam only by 2020. “Digital technology allows films to be broadcast through satellites, sold online, and even enables new [creative] approaches [in the medium itself]”, said cameraman Ly Thai Dung. “If the local film industry continues with celluloid technology, it will be out of sync with the world,” he said.

But, after considering the draft, minority experts still find it not really impossible. Because, strategic planners (probably for the first time) are determined to save Vietnamese cinema by these measures with a specific time limit (2020), not just by recurring statements in papers as before. This means setting up a new mechanism for investment, which will “open the pod door” to any work of any studio, regardless of being private or state.

Along with that, the plan is to build a new, more appropriate mechanism for classifying film according to age group, to replace the outdated censorship which keeps viewers at a disadvantage, and puts the creativity of filmmakers at risk. If a new rating system comes in the chances of a film like Cho Lon being banned for unclear reasons drops dramatically.

Besides, the State needs to set up a film foundation to support high-quality film projects, especially genre and experimental films. Vietnam’s Department of Cinema is also, for the first time, strongly wanting to  “re-define” local cinema as a potentially lucrative and profitable industry; something that is not just seen as an art form.

Ngo Bich Hanh, a representative of the BHD company, one of Vietnam’s first private production and distribution outlets in the 90s, emphasized the need for protecting Vietnamese films in the local marketplace, such as requiring cinemas to give priority to local films over foreign fare. This is a practice that South Korea has adopted and succeed in. Director Bui Thac Chuyen said about South Korea:

South Korea was in the same situation as Vietnam in 1986, and it took the Korean film industry ten years to “get out of the hole” through “strong reforms”. I think the Department has set the target of becoming a leader in the region’s film industry within seven years just to encourage us to work harder,

Maybe Bui Thac Chuyen is right. It’s all about the act of encouraging. Needless to say, we’ll keep you posted on how and if the current plan shapes new productions and business within the country.