Vietnam looks to carve out a piece of the business

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All eyes turned to China's booming boxoffice would also do well to consider the nascent market in neighboring Vietnam, where a similar cinematic revolution promises soon to follow suit.

Ngo Bach Han, the lead programmer of state-run Vietnam Media Corp, is a co-organizer of the first Vietnam International Film Festival, set to launch this October. She says that while China -- where boxoffice jumped 43% last year to $909 million -- restricts imports to 60 a year, only 20 of which can take home a significant portion of the boxoffice gross, Vietnam imported more than 150 films in 2009.

Starting with its gala opening on Oct. 17 in Hanoi to commemorate the capital's 1,000th anniversary, the VNIFF will take promotional support from both its close calendar predecessor, the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea (Oct. 7-15), and Unifrance, the cultural arm of the government of France, whose films will feature in the VNIFF's Country in Focus section.

"Vietnam's cinema is still in the early stages, but with partnerships around the world, we hope we will expand our influence both at home and abroad," says Ngo, who is in Cannes this week in her role as a senior international sales executive at VMC and promoting the feature title "Floating Lives" in the Marche du Film.

The VNIFF, which will run through Oct. 21, is co-organized by festival director Lai Van Sinh of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism. The submissions deadline is Aug. 8.

The VNIFF hopes to attract 50 to 60 films completed in 2009-2010 in five main sections: competition, short & documentary, world cinema today, Vietnam cinema today and country in focus: France.

Awards will be given out at a ceremony on Oct. 21, due to be broadcast nationally on Vietnam Television. A jury of international filmmakers will grant awards for best feature, best short film, and best documentary.

In addition, a jury prize will be given to the best director, and audiences will vote for favorite actor and actress. A Media Award will be granted, giving the winner free marketing and public relations with festival partners.

Best known in recent years for "Scent of Green Papaya" -- a production from former colonial power France -- Vietnamese cinema has not yet sent a film to Cannes as an official selection.

Vietnam produced 10 films in 2009, ranging in budget from $300,000 to $1.5 million, Ms. Ngo said, including a mix of comedies, musicals and dramas, all monitored for political, violent and sexual content by the government.

"The festival's aim is to get Vietnamese to start going to the movies again," said Ngo, noting that on the country's roughly 100 screens -- that's right, only 100 screens for 85 million people -- the locally made musical "The Brightening Kisses" grossed $1.2 million in February during the Lunar New Year holiday. That's more than "Avatar," which grossed $1 million nationwide, Ngo said, allowing that Vietnam's boxoffice data is primitive.

"Our best estimates show that Vietnam's boxoffice went up between 50% and 100% each of the last two years," she said.

-- Jonathan Landreth
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