International documentary film festival to pick up steam after Covid lull

Jointly organized by the European Union National Institutes for Cultures (EUNIC) and Vietnam National Documentary and Scientific Film Studio (DSF) since 2009, the event this year will take place for 10 days to screen 20 documentaries, half from the host country, and half from eight EU countries, the U.K. and Israel.

The films, to be shown for free from 7 p.m. every evening from June 3-12 at DSF’s headquarters in Hanoi, cover a wide range of personal, artistic and social themes from drug addiction and career adaptation, to music and painting, to rural migration, xenophobia and climate change.

The European selection includes critically acclaimed and award-winning documentaries like German director Wiebke Popel’s 2020 documentary “My Way” about composer Helmut Lachenmann, which won best film at the Dock of the Bay music documentary film festival in Spain in 2021, and director Paloma Sermon-Dai’s “Petit Samedi” about a 43-year-old drug-addict, which won best documentary at Belgian cinema’s Magritte Awards in 2022.

A scene in director Paloma Sermon-Dai’s Petit Samedi about a 43-year-old drug-addict. Photo courtesy of the Wallonia-Brussels Delegation in Vietnam

A scene in director Paloma Sermon-Dai’s ‘Petit Samedi’ about a 43-year-old drug-addict. Photo courtesy of the Wallonia-Brussels Delegation in Vietnam

Over the years, whenever possible and suitable, the festival organizers have made an effort to expand the event to Ho Chi Minh City in addition to Hanoi, as well as provide special screenings and workshops for young, independent filmmakers from other Southeast Asian countries.

For every evening of screening, pairs of European and Vietnamese documentaries have also been carefully curated to be screened alongside each other to provide viewers an opportunity to compare and contrast the two filmmaking traditions.

Vietnamese documentaries for instance are known for their relatively shorter durations (about 30 minutes compared to the feature length of European documentaries), and made-for-TV style with plenty of narration and talking-head interviews, while European films are more experimental in story-telling and other aspects.

Style aside, the topics of the Vietnamese documentaries at the upcoming 12th festival include such heady subjects as director Do Huyen Trang’s 2019 ”Nhung Vung Dat Hoi Sinh” (Reviving Lands) about intractable Agent Orange consequences left over from the American War, Tran Phuong Thuy’s and Trinh Quang Tung’s 2019 “Mau Lieu Hanh” (Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh) about a powerful folk religion, and Nguyen Van Kiem’s 2019 “Chuyen Co Tich O Ban Rao Tre” (Fairy Tales in Rao Tre Village) about the fight to stop the practice of consanguineous marriage that causes severe health problems among the Chut ethnic group in central Ha Tinh Province.