HANIFF Debuts New Talent Campus in Bid to Boost Vietnamese Industry

Fortissimo Films CEO Michael Werner AFM - P 2012
Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images

Fortissimo Films CEO Michael Werner AFM - P 2012

Jack Epps, writer of "Top Gun," and Fortissimo Films CEO Michael Werner were among the 10 industry vets to instruct 30 young filmmakers at the new forum.

HANOI – The second edition of the Hanoi International Film Festival has debuted a new talent campus and project market for aspiring local and international filmmakers, featuring panel discussions and workshops taught by a range of industry veterans from both the private and public sectors of Hollywood, Europe and Asia.

HANIFF organizers say they hope the new campus will nurture the nascent Vietnamese film industry as it steadily grows to meet the demands of an expanding domestic market and an ongoing government drive for greater artistic representation on the international festival circuit.

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“When I started work in Vietnam in 2002, there were four of five movie screens in Hanoi and about eight to 10 screens active in the whole country,” said American producer Michael Digregorio, one of HANIFF’s key organizers, formerly of the Ford Foundation and now with local studio Red Bridge.

Recent estimates place the number of cinemas and multiplexes in Vietnam somewhere around 50, with continued expansion projected for the foreseeable future, as ever more of the country’s 87-million-plus population joins the movie-going consumer class.

“The Vietnamese film community has come a long way in the past ten years, and it’s going to accelerate,” Digregorio added.

“By creating this opportunity for our young filmmakers to interact with international experts, they will gain valuable knowledge for the development our movie industry and they can understand exactly where they stand among the international film community,” said Dr. Ngo Phuong Lan, director general of HANIFF.

Divided into categories for script writing, directing and producing, the first edition of the HANIFF campus admitted 30 students — 24 Vietnamese and six from abroad. A range of international film industry veterans took part as instructors in the three-day course, including Jack Epps, Jr., who wrote a series of blockbuster hits in the 1980s and early 90s, including Top Gun and Turner and Hooch. Epps now teaches screenwriting in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

“For me as an American, coming here and getting a sense of the new stories coming out of their culture as young filmmakers begin to get new opportunities is really intriguing,” Epps told The Hollywood Reporter. “I see it as a collective effort to help the Vietnamese film industry get off the ground,” he added.

Lending their expertise on the nuances and practicalities of pitching and finding financing from commercial and institutional bodies were Michael Werner, CEO of Fortissimo Films, Sonja Heinen, head of the Berlinale co-production market and World Cinema Fund, Maren Niemeryer of Goethe Institute, Tessa Inkelaar of Film London and Frank Rittman, VP of the MPA in Asia-Pacific.

Director and USC lecturer Michael Uno led the directing panel, along with Singaporean director Boo Jun Feng, local leading talent Phan Dang Di, and Korean director Kang Je Gyu — all once participants of various talent campuses at international festivals themselves.

At a campus wrap-party on Nov. 28, Uno said of his experience working with the Vietnamese students: “Their enthusiasm and curiosity to learn were inspiring — this has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my career.”

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The MPA (Asia-Pacific) financed inaugural cash awards (their sums weren’t disclosed at time of print) for one outstanding student in each category, and a “New Talent Award,” modeled loosely on the script development grants of $25,000 that MPA-APSA awards to four Asia-Pacific-based filmmakers each year (which Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won in 2010 and turned into his Oscar-winner for best foreign language film, A Separation).

“There are a number of things that will contribute to Vietnam’s continued growth: skill set development, infrastructure enhancement, and distribution efficiencies,” said Rittman. “Initiatives like this are a great example of skill set development and an important first step, which could go a long way.”

Vietnamese producer-director Nguyen Hoang Diep won the inaugural new talent award Wednesday night for her planned debut project as a director, Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere. Earlier this month, the project was selected from 95 submissions from a total of 37 countries to receive 50,000 euro in financing from the Berlinale World Cinema Fund. Diep’s film will be produced by Phan Dang Di, whose feature, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid was the first Vietnamese film to appear at the Cannes International Critics Week in 2010, and went on to get a 60-cinema release in France by Acrobates Films.