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Audiences and I have met each other in that nostalgia: Director Huynh Tuan Anh

Thứ Ba, 31/07/2018 10:52
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- Born in 1982 in Ha Tien, Kien Giang
- Graduated from the Faculty of Linguistics and Literature, Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy
- Receiving a bachelor degree in theater directing in 2009. Currently undertaking courses in film directing at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Theater and Cinema
- Having written screenplays for a number of telefilms. The film “Lo to singing” (Lotto singing) directed by Huynh Tuan Anh has received good feedback from the public
- Printed poem collection: “Poetry for spoiled girls” (Ho Chi Minh Culture and Literature Publishing House, 2015)
- Winner of “Best Cai luong (reformed theater) script” award of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Stage Artists’ Association for the work “Imperial wind” at the Young Talented Theater Directors’ Festival 2013
- Huynh Tuan Anh, I know that you’ve taken a lot of positions and shifted to various fields. However, if seen from your oldest post as a teacher of literature in Ha Tien 10 years ago to the latest one as a film director today, it is something not very familiar to a lot of people. How did you cover that journey of ten years?

+ Sitting here and reminiscing about that ten-year journey, I have to express my deep thanks to the period I was a student of pedagogy. I also always bear in mind deep thanks to the lecturer saying to my face that I was in the wrong place. I was and is still so impressed by his saying and still don’t understand why he said that to me. I wondered whether it meant I completely have no talent for teaching and being a teacher. I felt very bad then. Long, long after graduation, after teaching for some time and then enrolling in a theater directing course, I realized that the job I can do best is not teaching, but dreaming on the stage.

Only by then did the hatred against my lecturer’s words fly away. Instead, I found that the literature knowledge that I took in during those university years serves as an incomparable foundation for me. Working as a teacher or a film director is a continual and seamless path for me, seemingly separated but really and closely related. I don’t dare to say that I am a teacher at the film studio, but the skills of a director are not so different from those of a teacher in a class.

Ten years make a long, but also short period. It is a long period when it comes to age, but too short for learning. Chances brought me the new job so quickly that now I’ve realized that my first cinema work still lacks of things. I wish I had been more industrious and concentrated on the work. Looking back upon the journey of ten years is to say to myself that I should speed up and never stop learning.

- Perhaps when making the decision to quit teaching to engage in the realm of art, you didn’t choose to become a film director, yes? That is because the first course you chose to follow is theater directing. However, you later showed your talent in soap opera, “cai luong” (reformed theater) scriptwriting, and now film scriptwriting in your maiden film “Lo to singing.” What have made that seemingly “drifting” artist profile? Will there be any changes in the time to come?

+ I always took in some fine factors of a kind of art that I work in. Therefore, I can say that the profile is not “drifting” at all. Those factors complement each other well and I think that it is good for me and my career. The important thing is whether we could make any success with them. If each type of art is a lover, then I have a very romantic and amorous life (laugh).

It is great when working in the cinema sector, which is the combination of the other six arts. It is not by chance for all the thorough preparations that I made in the past 10 years. The preparations were made with restless and seamless efforts. I am happy for the fact that all that I’ve gone through are now mine, my property. If you want to travel far, the belongings must be compact but good in quality and rich in contents. Above all are the will and the state of mind of a traveler with a durable power prior to a long-lasting journey.

- The cinema sector of Vietnam has witnessed the return of overseas Vietnamese directors and the far-reaching efforts to the international arena via particular paths of young domestic directors. However, with the advent of your film “Lo to singing,” people just see a new path - “pure Vietnamese,” highlighting the Vietnamese values in both what and how to make films. Could you just share with us a little bit about your choice?

+ The formula in “Lo to singing” is a carefully-calculated mathematic equation. As Director Quang Huy said, it is the “thin down” formula. It seems to be a topic that is hard to attract audience. However, with added contents and methods, in a harmonious way, the attention of the audience is captured. What we gained with “Lo to singing” has proven the role of hard-working in creativity. When starting a project, I persuade investors and publishers with just one sentence: “I will present you how to make people come to the box office,” instead of talking about how great, how nice the project is. It is a must to make it great and nice, but it is not enough. There must be the responsibility to bring it to the audiences and make it accepted by them via the tickets.

To say the truth, “Lo to singing” is a success story of the whole film crew, in which I play a very small part.

lo to

- Successful Vietnamese films recently often fall into one of the two ends: highly-appreciated in terms of art values without box-office success and the opposite. Meanwhile, in theory a good film must bring the combination of both art and box-office success. This is also a poser to film directors. You have solved that poser quite neatly in the film “Lo to singing.” Do you think that the way you’ve done apply to other projects? What is the foundation for your belief in that solution?

+ As for me, getting the audiences to the box-office is a technique, but making them come back the second time is an art. We cannot fool the audience by superficiality. In other words, for superficial pieces that got box-office success, it is hard for the producers to do the same thing the second time. It is not the time for communications wizards to magnify the pieces, as the audiences now won’t accept going to the cinema for “Ah Q nationalism.” They are fairer and don’t waste their altruism.

One more reason is that for cinematology, the fierceness is that the formula for success stories today may lead to failure in the future. Therefore, the important thing is that the way of thinking must always be refreshed.

- “Lo to” is considered a turning point of the Vietnamese cinema sector in the LGBT society. For the first time, a film about this topic has made people think seriously about the destinies, not the teasing that people often aim at LGBT people. It forces people to sit down and reflect on the topic. Why did you think that you had to make films about this topic in a different way?

+ To tell the truth, our materials came from the lives and destinies of lotto singers, not the topic of genders. Their behaviors are just details of the occupation; therefore, it is easy to see the emotions of the audiences develop from the sharing of those human lives; in focus are the drifting lives of lotto singers. Seen from this angle, it is the story of human destinies, not genders.

It cannot be denied that for a maiden work, it is safe for a director to choose topics familiar to the audience like what they often do with literary works of Nguyen Ngoc Tu or Nguyen Nhat Anh. I chose character Phung in a work of Nguyen Thi Tham (“Lo to singing” was made from the inspiration by the documentary “The last trip of Phung” by Director Nguyen Thi Tham – interviewer).

Choosing to make “Lo to singing” is in fact to solve a math sum by emotions towards human lives deep down inside my heart. They are those who travel here and there all the time that almost all 7x and 8x people knew about, at least once. The audiences and I have met each other in that nostalgia. Memories always make people come closer together, bringing love and forgiveness regardless of everything.

- As you said you “make films about human destinies,” I found it very similar to literary works. It also does not surprise me when knowing that you have attended poetry camps and had your poem collection published. Is this the literary thing that has been left in a director when shifting from the literary field to the cinema one? What role does the literary foundation play in your success?

+ I like being addressed as a “poet-film director.” It is rare to find a director with poetry background in the world. For me, cinematology is in fact all about dreams; and dreams are, in turn, so much close to poetry. I often explain to myself that it is easy to understand why people combine the two words Literature and Art. The compound word explains it all. It says literature is the foundation for other art types, serving as a super-language for all other art types. I am proud to have been a literature teacher and always feel happy and grateful for those teaching days. Literature knowledge helps me see issues from more angles and strata, helping me expand the boundary of imagination for the audiences. For me, the literary value in the works is one of the key points to assess how talented and capable a director is.
“This is the maiden film of Director Huynh Tuan Anh; however, it is precious and honorable that the film has won the trust of the audience. This is a film worth watching and enjoying for us, triggering the serious thinking about human destinies.”
Meritorious artist Thanh Loc
“Lo to singing has proven the fact that with endeavor, high determination and passion, the cinema sector of Vietnam can absolutely produce emotional and appealing films about human lives.”
Journalist Le Hong Lam
- Will you continue to compose poems? What did you find from poetry? Have you ever thought of a movie deeply imbued with poetry, to demonstrate the title “poet-film director,” as you always wished to be addressed?

+ In fact, poetry is a benefactor. I often think that poetry helps me do away with melancholy. However, the craziest ideas always flash in my mind, even in my dreams. I spend less time on poetry as I don’t have much time now, but sometimes I have to jump out of my bed during sleeping to note down some poem lines that come up to my mind. I have to say that I am not a professional poet, but composing poems to me is a way to train my language and better my aesthetic taste about an issue. It may be easy to compose poems, but it is hard to make beautiful ones. Training under those hard conditions is the way that I practice my thinking. Therefore, composing poems is a need to me.

The poetic feature is my strength in the cinema sector. Surely I will try to produce a film rich in poetic value. To make it clearer, it may be a film of the literarily-rich genre which has fewer dialogues and may be a kind of experimental or adaptation film, possibly inspired by a poem. There are various ways to produce films with poetic value, but it is not easy.

- You are an experienced scriptwriter with some success, but when you work as a director, you chose other scriptwriters and dare to spend a large sum on film scripts. Does it mean that you are not confident or you don’t want to be the judge in your own case or does it mean you want to reach for professionalism in each and every step?

+ My viewpoint is very clear. There is no knife sharpened in both edges, no needle threaded from both ends. That I didn’t write the scripts for my film made me be of sound mind. To make it clearer, it is difficult to edit our own words, not to mention the motion pictures that we produce from those words. More than anyone, I understand my own strength; therefore, I just take the place of a director, giving us an equal chance and fairness for creativity in screenwriting. As for my screenwriting knowledge, it helped me understand and share with the group of screenwriters in the film “Lo to singing” in editing and strengthening the script. That I am completely not related to screenwriting is the way I train myself with modesty and express my respect for my colleagues and their profession. Professionalism starts from those simple things. For me, screenwriters play the first and foremost important role. Until we reserve our due respect for those people of that full-of-hardship job, cinematology is still far from reaching success.

- Watching “Lo to singing,” I see something put under limit there. It seems that the director is always afraid of crossing the limit, always having to remind himself of the “limit.” It seems that when making this film you bore in mind that you were playing with a double-edged knife? What do you think about my thought?

+ True! When building up the film on the paper with seven out of 10 characters starred by stage artists, I was warned that it may be out of tune. I don’t mean to judge actors and actresses here. The thing is if not worked on carefully, the film may turn into a theatrical work.

It was really difficult, but it is fortunate that I had the support of experienced actor Huu Chau. I always consulted him in each scene. The attractive features in the performance of stage artists might easily make those watching the scenes in front of the monitor mistake them for suitable emotional vibration. However, when bringing the scenes together, the cinematic and the theatrical natures all showed in the limit in performance as well as the illustration by the bodies and conversations of the artists. The theatrical language is manifested in the illustration and introduction to scenes. Therefore, limiting is necessary.

- You have shown to be interested in a lot of projects and passion in different jobs. However, now that you are a film director, do you think you will set priority for this energy-consuming and creative profession?

+ I see that I am submerged in each scene and feel like flying high in the sky. That is the sign of the profession. When it comes to profession, it is obvious that it consumes. It is like to become the real me. Lieu in “Lo to singing” never cried a word (laugh) (Le Lieu is the main character with a tragic life in the film “Lo to singing” starred by merit artist Huu Chau, contributing to the success of the film – interviewer).

- One of the ways to have good screenplays is to turn to literary works. What do you think about the potential for this in Vietnamese literary works? What do you think are the literary works that have been properly exploited in cinematic works recently?

+ As for cinematology, the literary source is really great. As a person once studying literature, I often think about the difference or the variance between plots in films and those of the Vietnamese literary works. It triggered a question to me, “Why don’t we know how to exploit such a treasure? In fact, there are great works that we haven’t dwelled into. It is such a great waste and regret for us. The weakest point of Vietnamese films is screenplay, while there are seas of plots and stories from the literary works of any country, not just Vietnam. I see it as a waste and the path that I am going to embark on in the coming time will be the thorough exploitation of that source by adapting the literary works to films. However, it requires a special skill and the great ability of absorbing literary works.

State-own film producers used to be very successful when producing films taking the plots from literary works. Why not the same for commercial films? I think a lot about that and will make films from that invaluable treasure. Several films recently made like “Canh dong bat tan” (The floating lives), “Toi thay hoa vang tren co xanh” (Yellow flowers on green grass) have made that success. However, there still remains a gap in that field. The most objective reason, I see, is that the adaptation from literary works to films was not so good and the Vietnamese screenwriting sector has yet to implement well this part.
Adaption from literary works is a double-edged knife, as by doing so the directors place the literary works and their films on the two parts of a balance, triggering comparison. The advantage is that you have a set number of audiences who have read the literary works already. However, it is hard to please them and it also runs the risk of hurting them, or even triggering their reactions, if the directors are not skillful and creative enough to introduce films comparable with the literary works.

In fact, the real reason for the lack of good Vietnamese commercial films is the limited number of stories or the lack of literary materials, while literary materials make the real spring board for commercial films to go farther with their meaningful and multi-tier implication. I myself think that literary works and literary materials constitute the steady path for the cinema sector to advance and serve as the quality assurance for the films.

- It is said that you are flooded with unfinished projects and also other invitations after the success of “Lo to singing.” Is it true? Can you just reveal a little about those projects and which project is the one that you spend most of your efforts on?

+ I am happy that after “Lo to singing,” I’ve received a lot of invitations. However, I always remind me that I shouldn’t haste, for making films is a process of deep empathy. I don’t believe that good things can be born from haste and impetuous moments. After “Lo to singing,” I found myself trapped in a project I promised with a friend of mine. Fortunately, the plot of the film that I am going to do with my friend brings a milder atmosphere, not so tough like in “Lo to singing.” I see it as a project to shift myself a little from what I have done, with easier requirements. The aim is to produce an emotional and pleasant film that promotes a “wonder” in Kien Giang, my hometown.

Together with that project, writer Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc and I are also working on a detailed screenplay for a long-term project that I am very interested in: Making a film about the Southern “cai luong” (reformed theater), the project that I have been pursuing for 10 years now and hope to implement it soon.

- Thank you for spending time with us! We wish you success with your new projects!

Interviewer: Writer Nguyen Xuan Thuy
Translated by Huu Duong