The Hanoi International Film Festival Kicks Off in Vietnam

The upstart Southeast Asian festival shows some growing pains and plenty of promise as it returns for an expanded second year.

HANOI – The second edition of the Hanoi International Film Festival kicked off in the historic Friendship Palace in the Vietnamese capital last night with a glitzy red-carpet opening ceremony and a premiere screening of local director Le Hoang’s dramedy Hot Sand (Giai Phong Film Studio), starring Vietnamese idols Nha Phuong, Quach Ngoc Ngoan, Kim Tuyen, Diem Mi.

The festival rollout was covered live by state-backed TV channels VTV1 and VTV4, reaching an estimated 40 to 50 million home viewers across the Southeast Asian nation, according to the event organizers.

The second edition of HANIFF (previously VIFF, “Vietnam International Film Festival”) is back with a strong emphasis on Vietnamese cinema from past and present, with programming blocks dedicated to films portraying Hanoi, films produced during the “renovation period” (spanning from the beginning of the country’s economic modernization in 1986 to the early 2000s), and a selection of contemporary films from 2010 onwards. Altogether, over 40 Vietnamese features—most quite difficult to see outside of Vietnam—will be screened over the course of the five-day, biannual festival.

HANIFF 2012 will again have competition sections for international features and shorts, but the festival has dropped the documentary category this year. Fourteen features and thirteen shorts from the Middle East and Asia-Pacific are taking part in the competition. Award winners will be announced at a closing ceremony on Nov. 29.

Giving Vietnam’s growing legions of local cinema-goers a chance to see foreign festival fare rarely screened in the country, an International Panorama series is showcasing a range of Asian, European and Middle Eastern films at cinemas across the city, including Iranian Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation, Michael Haneke’s Amour, The Iron Lady, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, along with 11 other foreign features (a brief, opening-night rumor that We Need to Talk’s Tilda Swinton would be walking the red carpet—which was picked up and promoted on local TV—proved to be untrue).  

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A "Films of Berlin" section is showing five features financed by the Berlin International Film Festival's World Cinema Fund, including Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2010 Cannes Palme d'Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and Vietnamese director Phan Dang Di's 2010 Cannes entry, Bi, Don't Be Afraid. There is also a 10-film Spotlight on Korea this year. 

Chair of the feature film jury, Jan Schuette, managing director of the German Film and Television Academy Berlin, offered a few remarks translated into Vietnamese at the opening ceremony, saying he and his co-judges would ‘take their jobs most seriously.’ Schuette, festival director Dr. Ngo Phuong Lan and representatives of various event sponsors, were then each presented with huge bouquets of flowers, in accordance with Vietnamese banquette tradition.

In one of the night’s more curious turns, immediately following the closing statements of the opening ceremony, over half the audience abruptly decamped from the convention hall for other destinations just as the opening film, Hot Sand, began playing. Following this episode and the knuckle-bitingly bad translation of the premiere’s English subtitles (for those who stuck around), many international attendees at the after-party could be heard expressing bemused delight in the rough–and-tumble vibe of the show, or noting that HANIFF has a ways to go before it reaches the professional standard of a major international festival.

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Towards that end—of giving the local industry a boost of worldly sophistication and professionalism—this year, HANIFF has launched an all-new Talent Campus. Thirty aspiring young filmmakers—24 from Vietnam, six from abroad—are taking part in the new program, which is being taught by visiting industry veterans from Asia, Europe and the U.S.

“The talent campus is a great opportunity to prepare our young artists to contribute to our growing screen industries,” said Hoang Tuan Anh, on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, the government body behind HANIFF. “Our region is one of the fastest-growing and most important in Asia. We hope to encourage young talent to project our dynamic region to the world over the coming years,” he added.