Vietnam's Autumn Meeting Celebrates Emerging Film Talent

Autumn Meeting Vietnam H 2014
Courtesy of Autumn Meeting

The annual event's second edition offered a rare glimpse of the country's fast-growing film scene

With a population of 90 million—more than one quarter of the U.S.—and demographics that skew advantageously young, Vietnam has long been viewed as an eventual boom market for film and entertainment.

The generation of talent that will likely drive this emerging screen phenomenon was on full display in the coastal city of Danang Saturday for the closing gala of Vietnam's second annual Autumn Meeting, a workshop and film forum launched last year.

Programmers from both the Cannes and Venice film festivals were spotted in attendance at the event, grabbing the rather rare opportunity to build connections in one of Southeast Asia's most promising, but reclusive film scenes.

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"We created this event because what young Vietnamese filmmakers need most is exposure to film professionals from around the world," said co-founder Phan Dang Di, whose debut feature Bi Don't Be Afraid premiered at the Cannes Critics Week in 2011. "It's hard for them to get exposure to international standards and practices. I had that chance, and it's been very important to my career," he added.

Di's second film, Father, Son and Other Stories, is currently in post-production in France and his planned third feature, Full Moon Party, was one of the winners of the Busan Film Festival's Asian Project Market in October.

The first section of this year's Autumn Meeting took place at an eco-resort on a small island on the Thu Bon river, a short boat ride from the picturesque UNESCO world heritage city of Hoi An. There, in a jungle-entwined network of bungalows abutted by swimming pools, 11 young directors participated in a week of training sessions taught by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung (an Oscar nominee and Cannes Camera d'Or winner in 1993 for Scent of Green Papaya; more recently, director of the 2010 adaptation of Haruki Murakami's hit novel Norwegian Wood).

In addition, seven aspiring Vietnamese cinematographers received instruction and career mentoring from South Korean directors of photography Kim Hyung-koo (The Host, Memories of Murder) and Lee Doo-man (Spellbound, Wedding Campaign). The participation of elite DPs from the influential Korean industry—a considerable boon to the young event—was organized by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) on the invitation of Di.

"Last year, we had only the directors seminar with six young filmmakers," said co-founder and veteran Vietnamese producer Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, also a co-founder of regional production services firm Indochina Productions, which recently arranged the Asian shoot of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. "We plan to keep growing the seminars and eventually hope to add a film festival component. It's a step-by-step process, but the impact already has been very positive."

Reliable box-office figures for Vietnam are hard to come by, but most producers estimated the 2013 total at around $57 million. The total box office for domestic films is expected to grow by 35 percent this year, according to Tran.

"Unlike most places, the biggest challenge we face isn't financing—there's plenty of money around—it's good stories, experienced people and content," she said, adding: "Our audience is crazy [about] see[ing] more Vietnamese stories instead of just Hollywood blockbusters."

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The Autumn Meeting gala on Saturday was attended by key figures of the local industry, including director Bui Thac Chuyen (Adrift), Nguyen Quang Dung (Lady Assassin, a local box office record breaker upon its release in 2013), actresses Le Khanh (The Vertical Ray of the Sun, 2000) and Diem My (Lady Assassin), and producer Nguyen Thanh Son.

The event began with a brief screening of the short films made by the winning directors of last year's inaugural Autumn Meeting, followed by a presentation of this year's awards, which included cash prizes and production support for the most promising DP in the cinematographer program, the best art-house film pitch, the best commercial film pitch and the most promising short film pitch from the less experienced members of the director's program.

Director Tran Anh Hung has been my hero for a long time," said Nguyen le Hoang Viet, winner of the night's short film prize. "Getting to spend a week with him studying the language of cinema was a very precious experience for me. I have a lot more to learn, but now I know what to focus on."

"We only hope that the spirit of collaboration will transcend tonight and continue to develop and boost the state of Vietnamese cinema," said Di in closing remarks from the stage.